Civil Rights Panel: Duplication Threatens Black Colleges
Several states still not compliant with Title VI provisions
By David Pluviose
Predominately White institutions (PWIs) are duplicating programs offered at historically Black colleges and universities, costing the HBCUs money and making it more difficult for them to fulfill their mission of educating disadvantaged minorities, higher education officials told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last month.
Panelists at a meeting on the effectiveness of HBCUs in a post-segregation era told the commission, which is charged with monitoring and protecting civil rights, that higher education desegregation and anti-duplication requirements were not being enforced.
“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,” Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, told the Commission. “Nobody questions the right of the University of California or community colleges to exist.”
And given the decline in available public resources, and HBCUs’ extensive work with high numbers of underprepared students, these schools are forced to fight a battle for their existence “with one hand tied behind their back,” Merisotis said.
Raymond C. Pierce, dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, said the “greatest threat” facing HBCUs is the illegal duplication of existing HBCU programs by nearby predominately White institutions. The duplication leaves HBCU programs largely underfunded, he said, and possibly violates the equal protection provisions of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Pierce said the U.S. Department of Education may have to be forced through litigation to enforce civil rights laws as it was in the 1970s. A series of federal court orders resulting from lawsuits, 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, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia still have unresolved Title VI violations going back decades, Pierce said.
Without some type of intervention, Morgan State University President Earl S. Richardson said HBCUs will invariably be shortchanged if the PWIs in their geographic areas are allowed to set up duplicate academic programs. His school is opposed to a new joint Towson University/University of Baltimore MBA program approved last year by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The approval came despite a warning from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights that the joint program may duplicate and draw resources from MSU’s existing MBA program.
A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on segregation in higher education, United States v. Fordice, “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 [predominantly White schools], and we never will get the parity and comparability in our Black institutions,” he said.
Panelists also called for an increase in Title III funding to HBCUs as state funding dwindles. Pierce says that in light of the duplication crisis that plagues some HBCUs, a boost in Title III funding, specifically earmarked for minority-serving institutions, is much needed.
“I think Title III dollars probably need to be increased given what’s going on at the state level,” Pierce said. “Quite frankly, given the fact the federal government is not enforcing its own civil rights laws, to the detriment of Black colleges, they need to increase federal dollars to HBCUs if they’re not going to make the states do what they’re supposed to do.”
However, Richardson says HBCUs need to start getting funds from the many federal agencies awarding monies for specialized institutes and research.
“Oftentimes, because we get Title III money, it is looked at as the end-all for Black institutions. No. That is only a small amount of money compared to the larger pool of dollars that comes from the federal government to higher education institutions,” Richardson said. “What we’re seeking is increased resources from those programs … rather than just sending all of the money to our traditionally White institutions.”
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