Finding College Segregation Remedies Likely to Be Complicated, Expensive

Carrie Wells, Baltimore Sun, March 19, 2014

After a federal judge found that Maryland’s historically black colleges face unfair and unconstitutional competition from the state’s predominantly white universities, the parties headed into negotiations this month to work it out.

But even with the far-reaching court decision, some worried the rights of black institutions wouldn’t be protected and tried to put the judge’s ruling on the books as state law.

“I’m normally not a Doubting Thomas,” said state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus who introduced the legislation. “I just don’t see them coming to an agreement.”

While Carter’s effort has likely failed in this year’s General Assembly session—opponents argued it could have scuttled mediation and led to more lawsuits—it underscored deep misgivings about the ability of the long-feuding sides to come to a resolution.

That unease is one of many hurdles the parties will have to overcome to resolve a 2006 lawsuit filed against the state by some of the alumni and students at the four public historically black colleges and universities—Morgan State, Bowie State, Coppin State and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake ruled in October that the state hadn’t done enough to stop traditionally white universities from offering the same sought-after academic programs as HBCUs, thereby encouraging segregation among campuses.

The “dual system” of programs makes it difficult for the state’s HBCUs to attract nonblack students, Blake found. Decades after desegregation of the state’s universities began, about 91 percent of students at Maryland’s HBCUs are black.

The parties began meeting with a mediation judge in late January, and this month began face-to-face negotiations. The process is expected to be lengthy, expensive and potentially contentious.

The state’s universities could wind up pitted against one another in competition for new programs in growing fields like computer science. {snip}


Maryland’s HBCUs are hoping for a future in which new unique, programs draw in a larger and more diverse student body to boost declining enrollments, professors are paid on par with their counterparts at state universities and the institutions become regional economic hubs.


The University System of Maryland, which was not a defendant in the lawsuit but will be affected by its outcome, is trying to find a delicate balance between addressing Blake’s ruling and ensuring the traditionally white universities aren’t harmed by being denied the chance to create competitive new programs, said Joann A. Boughman, USM’s senior vice chancellor for academic affairs.


Conway is among those who are not confident the mediation will succeed.

For the time being, she has withdrawn her bill, which she called the “most contentious” in this year’s General Assembly session. Besides mandating that traditionally white institutions could not unfairly duplicate programs at HBCUs, the bill would have made it easier for institutions to sue over the issue.

Too many lawmakers were opposed to the bill, Conway said, because they thought it would introduce new conflicts into the middle of the mediation. P.J. Hogan, the vice chancellor of government relations for USM, said at a recent Board of Regents meeting that the system was “concerned about institutions suing each other in Circuit Court” if the bill passed.

Conway said she removed the language in her bill that would have made it easier for universities to sue and hopes to reintroduce it. She reiterated her doubts about mediation, saying traditionally white institutions are “not willing to give the programs back.” She said, “They haven’t agreed to give anything back.”

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