Alumni and students from Maryland’s four historically black universities took their long-held view that the state perpetuates racial segregation to court Tuesday, arguing that their institutions are underfunded.
The federal lawsuit calls on the state to pay for improvements at the four schools—Morgan State, Coppin State, Bowie State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore—that would make them more competitive with traditionally white peers. It also calls for the dismantling of programs at traditionally white schools that “unnecessarily” duplicate programs at the historically black universities.
The case has drawn national attention from legal scholars and advocates for historically black institutions, who are intrigued by its implications for federal enforcement of laws aimed at ensuring equality in higher education. For Maryland, it revives decades-old questions of whether the state has done enough to support and protect its historically black institutions.
“Maryland has not eradicated the vestiges of segregation,” Michael D. Jones, a Washington attorney who represents the plaintiffs, a coalition of students and alumni from the state’s historically black universities, said during opening statements Tuesday.
Baltimore attorney Craig A. Thompson, arguing for the state, countered that historically black universities have fared well in recent budgets and that minority students have far more opportunities at all of Maryland’s public universities than they did even a few decades ago.
The plaintiffs argue that Maryland has not met its obligations under United States v. Fordice, a 1992 case in which the Supreme Court ordered states to eliminate all practices and policies that trace back to the segregation era and that continue to foster inequalities.
In his opening remarks Tuesday, Jones said the state has failed in several key areas. It’s not enough, he said, for Maryland to fund historically black universities more equally in 2012. Jones said the universities need far greater infusions of money to make up for the historical disparities that left them with subpar library and lab facilities. He said historically black universities also need more money because they are charged with providing access and opportunities for low-income families.
Jones said an expert who will testify for the plaintiffs estimates that between 1990 and 2009, historically black universities should have received an additional $644 million in state appropriations. He said the universities should have received another $450 million to help with low-income students.
He said his case will also target Maryland’s decisions on program duplication, a longtime source of friction between historically black institutions and their traditionally white peers. The argument is that historically black schools can never gain equal footing if their most popular and distinctive programs are replicated elsewhere.