Author:   Michael Harriot           Published:  3/16/2020    The Root

Cheryl Kagan | Maryland State Senator – District 17

Maryland state senators voted to send more than a half-billion dollars to four majority-black institutions of higher learning, settling a 13-year-old lawsuit in which federal courts repeatedly found the state guilty of systematically discriminating against historically black colleges and universities.

On Sunday, the Baltimore Sun reported that Maryland’s state Senate unanimously passed a bill sending $580 million to Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore over the next 10 years. House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’ funding proposal had already passed the state’s House of Delegates by a veto-proof 129-2 margin.

The Sun reports:

The money would help the schools create academic programs, expand scholarships, recruit faculty and market the schools.

The legislation is designed to force the state to settle a long-running lawsuit that alleges Maryland’s government made decisions that harmed the viability of historically black colleges and universities.

Sen. Obie Patterson, a Prince George’s County Democrat, called the legislation “a great, great compromise bill.”

”Certainly, there will be some who say we didn’t go far enough or we didn’t get as much as we could,” Patterson said, before adding that he had spoken with leaders of the schools. “They assured me they were pleased with the progress we made.”

So what was the dispute all about?

The very essence of the legal claim was about cultural appropriation, segregation and flat-out racism. The lawsuit (which again, the state lost) claimed Maryland’s funding practices created and perpetuated “sophisticated as well as simple minded modes of discrimination.”

Like most states, each of Maryland’s state-supported schools fulfills a different “mission” for residents seeking higher learning. Some colleges are dedicated to educating teachers while others focus on science and math. Of course, during the days of Jim Crow, the state’s HBCUs, which now operate under the University System of Maryland, offered black students their only chance for a college degree because…segregation.

In 2006, a coalition of black college alumni alleged that the state had essentially created an unequal playing field by stealing innovative educational techniques from black universities and duplicated them at white colleges (Or, as America calls it, “inventing”). The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education—a group composed of HBCU grads — filed a lawsuit after the Maryland attorney general warned that the state was “vulnerable legally” for its treatment of HBCUs.

The historically black institutions had created some of the state’s first programs for green sustainability studies; computer sciences; aging studies; and health care facilities management, many of which were later duplicated by Maryland’s white state schools.

For instance, Bowie State offered the only Master’s of Science in computer science as a state school until Towson introduced the exact same program in 1994, causing the Bowie’s enrollment to drop “from 119 in 1994 to 29 in 2008, while Towson’s enrollment skyrocketed from 23 in 1994 to 101 according to the suit.

Morgan State University, the state’s “urban research institution,” created a groundbreaking program that offered an accelerated Master’s of Business Administration…Until the University of Baltimore and Towson University both replicated the program. Morgan State had even offered to expand its MBA program, arguing that it was unnecessary to have two of the exact same programs in the three different state schools within a 15-mile radius.

Maryland did it anyway.

The Coalition argued that duplicating these programs not only violated the missions of state colleges, but the practice also kneecapped the HBCUs by giving white colleges more money for the exact same programs that had been pilfered from black schools.

However, the state’s attorneys insisted that the black programs received less money because the HBCUs had fewer students. In response, the Coalition explained that the HBCUs had fewer students because Maryland essentially undermined their ability to compete with better-funded white schools. Plus, if every school was supposed to have a different purpose, the Coalition countered, there could only be one reason that the state allowed this duplication:

White people don’t want to go to college with black people.

In 2013, a federal judge ruled in favor of the HBCUs, finding that the state’s “unnecessary duplication influences student demographics” at black colleges adding that HBCUs
will not be able to increase their non-black enrollment if their offerings continue to be unnecessarily duplicated.”

“The controlling question is not whether the state has done ‘enough’ to integrate its institutions of higher learning,” wrote District Judge Catherine Blake. [R]ather, it is whether the state has “le[ft] in place policies rooted in its prior officially segregated system.”

Blake ordered the parties to work out a settlement but Republican lawmakers and the state’s governor repeatedly lowballed the HBCUs with offers that ranged from $100 million to $200 million. Meanwhile, activists, education advocates and the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus have rejected lower offers to repair the disparities.

But now they’ve finally reached an agreement.

Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, called the new legislation a “major victory in our fight for equitable treatment of HBCUs.”