Statements by state legislators and representatives of the University system of Maryland (USM) in defense of Maryland’s dual system of higher education sound much like the rhetoric of the 1860s. Then, Southern Dix¬iecrats and plantation owners warned of the social, political and economic upheaval freeing the slaves would bring to the Southern way of life. They were sufficiently adamant to stage a civil war in order to maintain what was clearly an unjust, cruel and inhumane system.

To hear echoes of those pre-civil war voices more than 150 years later coming from the most learned corners of our state is scary, to say the least. Yet, that is exactly what is unfolding in response to a federal court judge’s ruling requiring the State of Maryland to dismantle its unlawful dual system of higher education. Such reckless commentary can serve only to create confusion, raise anxiety and stir anger over the very important issues of equal educational opportunity and racial desegregation.

Days after the ruling, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) Professor George LeNoue issued a statement in the Baltimore {Sun} warning of the disruption eliminating academic program duplication would cause and predicting that White students would not attend Historically Black Institutions, even if those institu¬tions were made comparable and competitive with TWIs. Variations of the looming doom and gloom theme were further advanced by Baltimore County state senators Bobby Zirkin and James Brochin in opposing legislation proposed by Sen. Joan Carter Conway to provide for judicial review of controversial decisions made by the Maryland Higher Education Commission permitting unnecessary program duplication. Most recently, USM Vice President Patrick J. Hogan told the {Sun} that University system officials too were “concerned about institutions suing each other in circuit court.”

Professor LaNoue and his partners of prophesy must realize that the courts leave the State no choice but to dismantle its segregated system of higher education.

Also, they have seen the data showing HBIs were among the most racially integrated of Maryland public campuses in the 70’s, just before the state’s return to the practice of program duplication. They have evidence suggesting that the existence of judicial review would deter rather than encourage lawsuits because of the strict scrutiny problematic program proposals would undergo. They are very much aware that the mechanism for orderly resolution of the duplication issue is well within current state poli¬cies for the discontinuance of existing programs and the approval of new degree offerings. If they are honest, they will admit that any reluctance of the State and USM officials to address the court’s concern is not about finding a way, it is a matter of having the will to do the right thing.

Perhaps the most disturbing comments have come from USM Vice Chancellor Joann Boughman, who told a {Sun} reporter that the USM system “is trying to find a delicate balance between addressing Blake’s ruling and ensuring that traditionally White institutions aren’t harmed by being denied the chance to create competitive programs.” I seem to recall from my days on the USM Board of Regents that the same vice chancellor just hap¬pened to have been a longtime member of the Maryland Higher Education Commission who voted to approve Towson’s duplication of the Morgan MBA as well as several other instances of academic program duplication. Would not fairness have dictated that Vice Chancellor Boughman be equally protective of the Historically Black Institutions when she was considering whether or not to approve the program duplication the court found to be so harmful to HBIs? Should she not have insisted that HBIs also be made competitive?

Boughman then proceeds to lay out arguments for not fully complying with the judge’s ruling by contending that “new programs can cost millions of dollars as new faculty are hired and other infrastructure is put into place.”

Her arguments seem a hollow twist on the HBIs’ long held position that the investment of millions of dollars building facilities and hiring new faculty at Towson, UMBC and the University of Baltimore, rather than investing in the growth and development of Coppin, Bowie, Morgan and UMES, was inefficient, immoral and unconstitutional. With the Court ruling against the State, there should be no doubt that the HBIs were correct and Maryland should not waste millions more of the taxpayers’ dollars paying legal fees for both the State and the HBI Coalition just to preserve what the court has determined to be a segregated system of higher education.

Finally, in an apparent reference to the judge’s call for transfer or duplicated programs back to the HBIs, Bough¬man likens the remedy to the old adage of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Surely a system vice chancellor would know that it is Paul, not Peter, who was robbed. In fact, Peter has been found by the Court to be guilty and told to return Paul’s belongings. It is not the TWIs that need Boughman’s protection; it is the HBIs that must be made comparable and competitive with other public institutions of higher education in the state.

One can only imagine the models of desegregation and equal access the HBIs could have been had the State enabled them to continue on the trajectory they set in the years following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent enforcement actions of the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice offices of civil rights. State data show that the HBIs were well on the way to becoming exemplars of desegrega¬tion and equal access as well as models of efficiency and effectiveness because of the resurgence in enrollments. But with a series of well-orchestrated policy changes, state officials and then Commissioner Boughman and her colleagues shifted the fate of the HBIs, sending them into a downward spiral of internal turmoil and external criticism and demagoguery.

It is time to set aside the scare tactics and focus on solutions that are both principled and practical. If an old ad¬age is to be invoked as a closing note, it would be “Oh what tangled webs we weave when we practice to de¬ceive.”


A. Dwight Pettit

Special to the AFRO