State Offers Settlement in Maryland HBCU Lawsuit Over Duplication of Signature Programs

Posted: 2/27/2018 11:22 AM
Filed under: Bowie, Coppin, discrimination, HBCU, lawsuit, Maryland, Morgan, segregation, University

Raymond PierceDeShawn Preston \\ Feb. 27, 2018

In 2006, a coalition of alumni from Maryland’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, initiated litigation in federal court aimed at addressing discriminatory policies within the state’s higher education system. The complaint alleged underfunding of the public HBCUs along with harmful state policies allowing Traditionally White Institutions (TWIs) to duplicate signature programs at the HBCUs. These signature programs had been placed at Maryland’s HBCUs as part of the state’s compliance plans to resolve longstanding federal non-discrimination violations. The State of Maryland entered into these plans with the U.S. Department of Education along with other southern states dating as far back as 1977 in order to remedy the consistent underfunding of HBCUs as well as limited access to high-demand education programs for HBCU attendees. Unnecessary program duplication among colleges in the state system advances segregation by having the effect of steering students to the duplicated programs based on racial considerations. Ultimately, it lends to advancing segregation among the student populations at the HBCUs and TWIs as well as diminishing an additional stream of income from students that would have otherwise attended a signature program only offered at a HBCU in their area.

In 2013, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake ruled in favor of Maryland’s HBCUs determining that that State of Maryland continues to function as a de jure system of segregation that discriminated against African American students attending HBCUs. In November 2017, Judge Blake appointed a “special master” to involve state stakeholders in formation of a plan to resolve the matter and bring the state into compliance with law. The special master was appointed by the court following the inability of state officials and the HBCU coalition to agree upon a remedy. Pursuant to court order, a plan must create unique or high-demand programs at HBCUs to help attract a more diverse student population, as well as provide funding to help the schools with recruiting and financial aid.

On February 7, 2018, Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, offered a $100 million settlement to be divided between the four HBCUs to resolve the dispute, which has spanned 12 years. In a similar case in 2001, the State of Mississippi paid $500 million to the state's three public HBCUs to establish new programs, fund construction, and increase enrollment. Within the historical context of higher education desegregation litigation in this nation, it is highly difficult to conclude that the state of Maryland’s current proposition is sufficient to address the findings of the federal court. 

Dr. DeShawn Preston serves as SEF’s Higher Education Research Fellow. DeShawn primarily researches issues pertaining to developmental education and advancing opportunities for historically marginalized groups in education. 

Raymond C. Pierce serves as the President and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation where he is responsible for leading the organization’s vision and strategy in support of carrying out SEF’s mission to ensure equity and excellence in education for low-income students and students of color in the South. 

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