Maryland Universities Unnecessarily Duplicated the Programs of Black Colleges, Court Rules

Carrie Wells, Baltimore Sun, October 8, 2013

A federal judge ruled Monday that Maryland hasn’t done enough to help the state’s four historically black colleges and universities overcome segregation-era policies that required separate programs for white and black students.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake found that state universities have continued to unnecessarily duplicate the programs of the four historically black institutions, violating the constitutional rights of those students. Plaintiffs had argued that the historically black colleges were hurt because neighboring institutions offered similar programs, siphoning away students.

But Blake also found that the state’s funding of historically black universities did not violate the rights of students—throwing out a longstanding complaint by the HBCUs.

“The State has never dismantled the . . . duplication of programs that facilitated segregation—and it has maintained policies and practices that have even exacerbated this problem,” Blake wrote.

The court found that a lack of unique academic programs that are in high demand has hurt recruitment at these historically black colleges and universities. The black institutions have 11 such programs compared with 122 at traditionally white institutions.

While Blake did not offer a specific remedy, she wrote that a likely outcome would be “expansion of mission and program uniqueness and institutional identity” at historically black institutions. In addition, she wrote that “the transfer or merger of select high demand programs” from traditionally white institutions to historically black ones would likely be needed.

She urged the parties to enter into mediation.

In a statement, Samantha Kappalman, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley, said the administration was pleased that the court “recognized our commitment” to correct a historical imbalance in funding the HBCUs.

But, she said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s conclusions regarding duplication. We are continuing to review today’s decision and are considering all of our options, including resolving the lone remaining issue through constructive mediation.”

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Michael D. Jones, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that they looked forward to determining which programs could be “transferred” to HBCUs.

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Morgan State’s master’s in business administration degree and Bowie State’s master’s in computer science degree were cited as examples of popular programs that were undermined by competing programs at traditionally white institutions.

A joint master’s program in business administration at the University of Baltimore and Towson University was created in 2005 over the objections of Morgan State.

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The plaintiffs had argued that the state needed to do much more to make up for decades of underfunding the historically black universities, and that the colleges also needed more money because they must provide access and opportunities for low-income families. The court found the state’s current funding is adequate.

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