By Marvin L. ‘Doc’ Cheatham, Sr., Special to the AFRO

In 2006, a coalition of HBCU students, alumni and other HBCU supporters filed a lawsuit in the Maryland Federal District Court against the State of Maryland alleging that the State had failed to make HBCUs comparable and competitive with their White counterparts.

Specifically, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education maintained that the State was in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act 1964 and the Fordice decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in duplicating the academic programs of Historically Black Institutions at nearby predominantly White campuses; limiting HBI missions; failing to provide appropriate facilities and underfunding the overall development of the four Historically Black Institutions (HBIs).

After a failed attempt at mediation of the issues, the case went to trial in January 2012. In October 2013, Judge Catherine Blake ruled that in maintaining the practice of unnecessary program duplication between HBIs and Traditionally White Universities, Maryland continues to operate a dual and segregated system of higher education, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and to the harm of the HBIs and their students. The judge asserted that the violation must be remedied and suggested that the Coalition and the state attempt to resolve it through mediation.

Dr. Marvin L. Cheatham

Unfortunately, the post-trial mediation– like the pretrial mediation– was not successful, so the Court convened again in February 2017 to hear arguments on appropriation remedies for transforming Maryland’s dual system of higher education into a unitary or single system of colleges and universities.

In November 2017, the judge issued an order providing for the establishment of new unique and high demand programs at each of the HBIs to form niches or specialty areas that would give the HBIs identities beyond their racial history. The judge’s order also provided for the appointment of a special master to work with the HBIs, Coalition experts and others in determining what the niches should be, any facilities that would be needed, and how much the enhancement effort would cost.

Included among the duties of the special master is the responsibility to monitor the implementation of the court’s remedial plan to ensure that it proceeds in accordance with a schedule to be approved by the court. The judge stipulated further that funding be provided for student financial aid, marketing and recruitment and the State was to abandon the practice of unnecessary program duplication which had led to the massive disparity in academic programs between Traditionally White Institutions and the HBIs.

Notwithstanding decades of petitions from the HBIs; the recommendations of several state commissions and outside consultants; the Fordice ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and the November 2017 Federal District Court ruling against Maryland specifically, Maryland’s failure to accept responsibility for the harm it continues to do to HBIs and their students. State lawmakers seem to believe that the future of higher education in the State depends primarily on development of traditionally White campuses at the expense of its HBIs.

In January of this year Attorney General Brian Frosh appealed the judge’s decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Subsequently, attorneys for the Coalition appealed the judge’s positions on HBI missions, facilities and funding. Meanwhile the Governor has since sent a letter to the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus offering $100 million over ten years to settle the lawsuit. The irony is that attorneys for the State estimate the cost of the Coalition’s plan to fix the problem is between $1-2 billion and, for the Coalition to accept $100 million to settle as much as a $2 billion problem would be a downright betrayal of our students, faculty, alumni and others who have historically suffered the injustices of the State’s neglect.

This case has been going on for more than 12 years but the injustice to the HBIs and their students has endured since public education in the State began and the Hogan-Frosh appeal can only delay addressing the injustice. Therefore, we are calling upon the Governor, the attorney general and the leadership of the Maryland General Assembly to withdraw the appeal and begin immediately to implement Judge Blake’s order.

Dr. Marvin L. ‘Doc’ Cheatham, Sr. is a civil rights and election law consultant and convener of the Maryland H.B.C.U. Matters’ Coalition.