• August 1, 2014

Maryland Lawsuit Is Hardly 'Unusual'

To the Editor:

"In Court, Group Seeks More State Support for Maryland's Black Universities" (The Chronicle, January 3) recounts the efforts of the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education to seek legal redress against the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The article incorrectly asserts that the lawsuit against the commission is an "unusual bid to increase appropriations for their campuses and protect their programs from competition with colleges that traditionally enroll white students."

At the trial in a Baltimore federal court, the African-American plaintiffs representing the four historically black colleges and universities in Maryland—Morgan, Bowie, and Coppin State Universities, and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore—have produced an abundance of persuasive evidence that shows the following. First, as recently as 2009, a state-commissioned report concluded that Maryland still maintained the vestiges of the dual and unequal system of higher education. Second, several expert witnesses found current indicators of unequal and inadequate funding, institutional missions, educa­tional programs, and facilities at the four historically black institutions.

The evidence also showed that Maryland created duplicate educational graduate programs, such as a master's degree in business administration, at a traditionally white institutions when an identical program already existed at a nearby historically black university. The Supreme Court established that such duplication of educational programs constitutes a legal violation as far back as 1992 in the landmark U.S. and Ayers v. Fordice decision involving Mississippi. In addition, Maryland has been warned for over 40 years by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that its higher-education system was segregated and thus violated a federal civil-rights statute and the U.S. Constitution. Ultimately the court will decide the legality of the current state of historically black colleges and universities in Maryland.

In summary, this traditional civil-rights lawsuit seeks to combat the sordid state history of racial discrimination in higher education that still manifests itself in present practices against Maryland's historically black colleges and universities. In a recent editorial, The Baltimore Sun concluded: "Whatever comes of this lawsuit, it should force the state to reckon with the fact that its HBCU's are, in many respects, still not comparable and competitive with their peer institutions. Unless it finds a way to change that, neither they nor they nor the state will ever achieve their full potential."

John K. Pierre
Professor
Southern University Law Center
Baton Rouge, La.

John C. Brittain
Professor
University of the District of Columbia School of Law
Washington

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