Maryland Faces University Desegregation Fight
By Dianne Hayes
A group of Morgan State students, alumni and civil rights activists say a lawsuit seems to be the only remedy for ensuring Maryland complies with federal laws designed to preserve the purpose and integrity of historically Black colleges and universities.
“They are discriminating against historically Black universities in a somewhat discreet manner,” says Kenneth L. Johnson, lead attorney for the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, which filed suit in Baltimore City Circuit Court. “They are in violation of Brown v. Board of Education.”
The lawsuit alleges that the state of Maryland is unlawfully duplicating at traditionally White institutions programs already available at HBCUs.
Dr. Calvin W. Burnett, the state secretary of higher education, would not comment on the lawsuit, saying he hadn’t been formally served. But the former Coppin State University president told the Baltimore Sun that Maryland had made a good-faith effort to fulfill its federal civil rights obligations.
“One thing that’s great about this country is you can file a suit against a ham sandwich, but you’ve got to go into court and prove it doesn’t taste right,” Burnett is quoted as saying. “If this goes into court, I am confident … that we will be able to defend ourselves.”
David Burton, the coalition president, says the group’s concerns stem from the November 2005 decision by the Maryland Higher Education Commission allowing traditionally White Towson University to offer an MBA program although students already have the option of getting an MBA from historically Black Morgan State. A decision earlier this year to allow the University of Baltimore to offer four-year academic programs in direct competition with Baltimore-area HBCUs is also a concern.
Burton says Morgan State programs in public health, electrical engineering and science education have been duplicated at Towson. There are also similarities in programs offered at historically Black Bowie State University and the University of Maryland-University College.
“The duplication is almost across the board.
It makes Bowie less relevant. It’s not just spotty duplication, but replication at a rate that defies belief,” says Burton, a graduate of Morgan State.
The suit is based on the principles laid out in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Fordice, the higher education equivalent of Brown v. Board of Education. The law prohibits states from duplicating at nearby traditionally White institutions programs already established in HBCUs and requires equitable funding of Black and White state schools, among other requirements.
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