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Civil Rights Panel: Historically White Program Duplication Threatens HBCUs

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hosted a panel Friday examining the educational effectiveness of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The consensus among panelists was that though HBCUs play an integral role in taking in disadvantaged minorities and providing then a launching pad for career success, they face a number of very serious threats to their existence as a debate over their post-segregation relevance rages on.

“Historically Black colleges are the only group of institutions in this country whose right to exist is questioned daily by members of the public — that is a serious problem. Nobody questions the right of the University of California or community colleges to exist,” says panelist Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Panelist Raymond C. Pierce, dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, says the “greatest threat” facing HBCUs is the illegal duplication of existing HBCU academic programs by nearby predominantly White institutions (PWI) – still left unchecked by many states. This PWI duplication largely leaves HBCU academic programs underfunded, violating the equal protection provisions of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In the 1970s, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare was sued by private citizens for not enforcing higher education desegregation and anti-duplication mandates of Title VI. A series of federal court orders resulting from these suits, known as the Adams cases, mandated that the agency’s civil rights unit enforce Title VI among the many noncompliant states, though to this day, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, Texas and Kentucky still have outstanding Title VI violations, Pierce says.

“What needs to happen is the same thing that happened back in the 1970s —litigation against the federal government’s Department of Education Office for Civil Rights for not prosecuting or enforcing civil rights law — [that’s] the only way it’s going to get corrected.

More recently, in a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Fordice, the court found that though Mississippi had adopted race blind admissions across its public higher ed system, the system remained illegally segregated as five schools remained mainly White and three schools remained mainly Black.

Panelist Dr. Earl S. Richardson, president of Morgan State University, said the Fordice decision reveals that HBCUs will invariably be short-changed if de facto segregated PWIs are able to set up academic programs that duplicate HBCU programs in the same geographic area.

“The Fordice case has made it very clear that there should not be this kind of duplication, because they see the harm that is done when you have duplicate programs with neighboring institutions, one Black and one White,” Richardson said.

“If we don’t enforce that, then the money continues to go the other way and build duplicate programs at our larger and in many instances, more attractive [PWIs], and we never will get the parity and comparability in our Black institutions,” he added.

—  The full version of this article will be available in the June 1st edition of Diverse.

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