A lawsuit against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) seeking parity between the state’s Black and White colleges is making progress, according to an attorney representing the plaintiffs. Prospective students, current students and alumni of three of the state’s four historically Black universities filed the suit to end alleged “state-sponsored discrimination,” claiming the MHEC has failed its Black universities in funding; student retention and graduation; campus programs and activities; faculty and staff diversity; capital enhancements; program duplication and honoring their partnership agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
“We’ve taken most of the depositions in the case,” said John Greenbaum, legal director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We’re starting the expert witness part of the case and that will run for the next couple of months. Then after that will be pretrial motions. We’re going to have a pretrial hearing this summer.”
Officials of the MHEC declined to comment on the pending case.
The state and OCR entered into a partnership agreement in 2002 to bring Maryland into compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment regarding segregation and discrimination within Maryland’s higher education institutions. Within their complaint, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education says the MHEC did nothing more than “lift the rule excluding Black students from White schools” following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate all schools in the United States and says Black enrollment in traditionally White schools remained minimal.
“At this point there have not been serious settlement discussions,” Greenbaum said.
Plaintiffs seek to develop “complete parity” between the state’s traditionally White institutions within the next five years, or else they fear the state’s historically Black colleges will continue to suffer.
The lawsuit also alleges that White schools have duplicated programs at Black schools, namely Towson University and the University of Baltimore duplicating a master’s in business administration program at Morgan State University, and Salisbury State University offering a computer science program originally offered at University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Greenbaum said high school and current students seeking enrollment in the state’s Black schools have joined the lawsuit to ensure their degree will hold the same value as a degree with the same field of study at the state’s White institutions. College graduates are participating because they feel their degree does not have the same worth as a degree from the state’s White institutions because of the alleged discrimination.
“We feel very confident in our ability to prevail in this case at trial,” Greenbaum said.