When it comes to the University System of Maryland (USM), in the eyes of many members of the Black community, a fox has been deployed into the educational chicken coup to guard our HBCU chicks. Such characterization springs from the USM Board of Regents recent appointment of Robert Caret as chancellor of the system. In that position, he will oversee the 12 public USM institutions, including Bowie, Coppin and UMES, three of the state’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). 

From 2003 to 2011, Caret was the president of Towson University. In that role he was a principle proponent of unnecessary duplication of academic programs, including a joint MBA program between Towson and the University of Baltimore that in 2013, a federal court determined was but one of a plethora of constitutional violations precipitated by Maryland upon the HBCUs in this state and the students who attend them.

The approval of the joint Towson/University of Baltimore MBA program was a clear duplication of a pre-existing MBA program at Morgan State University. The court found such approval to be an unconstitutional violation of the state’s desegregation obligations that resulted in creating a segregative effect at both Towson and Morgan and thus diminished the objective of eliminating the vestiges of the legislatively required segregation historically carried on in this state. Therefore Caret’s Towson MBA program was an impediment to diversity, promoted segregation and added to diminishing Morgan being competitive with historically White institutions because as stated in the court’s decision:

“…in the absence of a competitive academic advantage, non-Black students have less of an incentive to enroll in what is otherwise perceived as a school for Black Students.”

The absence of a competitive advantage caused by the duplication against HBCUs in Maryland is dramatically pointed out in the lawsuit’s decision that compares the number of distinct non-core, high demand programs offered at historically White institutions with those offered at HBCUs. Among other things, the court’s decision points out that an average of 17 distinct non-core high demand programs were offered at each of the Traditionally White Institutions in Maryland while an average of only three were offered at each of the state’s HBCUs. The Maryland HBCUs are thus (i) unable to attract as many students (White and Black) because of their lower numbers of unique high demand course programs, and (ii) graduate far fewer students who can pursue, effectively compete for and secure high demand career paths. In the end, the court’s ultimate conclusion that the State of Maryland continues to maintain and perpetuate a separate and unequal system of higher education that is segregated by race can be laid directly at the feet of Caret and the state’s policymakers whose disregard for the law has continued policies and practices that foster discrimination and perpetuate segregated conditions among our campuses.

Our concern with his past actions ought to be enough, but with the Caret appointment spring further concerns of how his past actions may be a sign as to the future actions he may (or may not) implement as the new USM chancellor and the threat such future actions (or inactions) may pose to the HBCUs in that system and Morgan, which is the only HBCU outside that system.

Given Caret’s past actions and the absence of any clear explanation as to how he intends to address the damage and violations outlined by the court, in which he was a willing participant, we indeed are extremely wary of Caret’s appointment as the next USM chancellor.

It is for this reason we believe that at least one minimal solution to protecting the interests of Maryland’s HBCUs offered by state Sen. Joan Carter Conway is a sensible one and should be seriously considered. Sen. Conway’s SB 19 legislation, if enacted, would give the Maryland General Assembly the ultimate power to confirm the Regents’ appointment to the position of chancellor, a procedure that is not without precedent in other states.

Given the magnitude of violations outlined by the court in the lawsuit that have impacted, indeed impeded, the progress of Maryland’s HBCUs and HBCU students over the past 60+ years, the Black community has no credible foundation for any confidence in the state higher education boards and leadership when it comes to the interests of the Maryland HBCUs. Therefore, as indicated in the Conway proposed legislation,  the state’s legislative forum should have the final advise and consent approval authority over who should be the USM chancellor so every and all aspects of such appointment can be fairly heard and challenged by the people’s representatives.

In such instance it is our belief that only then can we have a true sense that our HBCU students will be given a fairer chance to have better opportunities to benefit from the competitive quality education and future career paths the recent lawsuit reflects the State of Maryland has consistently denied them both before and after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision of the United States Supreme Court.