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Duplicate Degrees at Black, White Colleges Sparks Debate Again


A measure to allow Morgan State University to take the Maryland Higher Education Commission to court in a dispute over a duplicative MBA program is stirring debate again, a year after it caused contention in the General Assembly.

Opponents say the bill would enable entities in state higher education to sue each other, but supporters argue that Maryland is violating desegregation law and needs the change to bring about compliance.

University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan testified against the bill at a Senate hearing, saying it would open the possibility of delaying educational programs that are needed and potentially create expensive lawsuits in higher education.

“I’m not aware of any state in the union where there is any possibility for one university to sue another just a really, really bad precedent in my mind,” Kirwan said.

Morgan State University President Earl Richardson, who heads the traditionally Black school, testified that the bill isn’t aimed at pitting schools against each other. Instead, he said the measure only seeks to create fairness in education.

“It is about the principle of comparability among all of our public institutions and whether or not they are entitled to the same resources, and their students are entitled to the same quality of facilities and programs and education that they are entitled to elsewhere,” Richardson said.

The dispute is over an MHEC decision relating to MBA programs at Morgan State and a joint program at Towson University and the University of Baltimore.

Baltimore Sen. Joan Conway’s bill would force MHEC to review whether unnecessary duplication existed, if a historically Black college asked for a review. It also would allow the matter to be taken to circuit court.

The bill was crafted to address an MHEC vote in 2005 that endorsed a joint MBA program at Towson and the University of Baltimore over the objections of nearby Morgan State University.

Morgan State is a traditionally Black college that has argued that the Towson program duplicated its MBA program and would lead to further segregation in Baltimore-area universities. Morgan State has had the MBA program for more than 30 years.

Maryland signed an agreement with the federal Office for Civil Rights in 2000 requiring it to work toward upgrading historically Black colleges.

A bill was passed two years ago that would have enabled institutions of higher learning to appeal MHEC decisions on course duplication to a circuit courts. But former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoed it.

Last year, the bill died after an amendment took out the provision allowing a school to sue.

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