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HBCU’s Seek Equity

POSTED: August 12, 2011, 12:00 am

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Sometimes the differences can be stark; the physical plants of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly white institutions often tell the stories of decades of discriminatory state politics that created separate and unequal systems of higher education. For decades Black colleges, primarily in southern states, have suffered as a result of hostile state legislatures and governors that purposefully denied adequate funding for academic programs and campus facilities at HBCUs. The evidence was quite clear in the very visible disparity between programs and facilities at white state universities and nearby public Black college campuses. Though all Black colleges, public and private, have struggled to level the playing field, HBCUs that are state controlled have been particularly challenged to compete while being denied sufficient funding to fulfill their historical and state mandated missions.

The state of Maryland is symbolic of this inequity in support and funding. Historically, the University of Maryland (pictured left), both the Baltimore and College Park campuses, and institutions such as Towson State University, have long been favored by the state over HBCUs such as Morgan State University, Bowie State University and Coppin State University. Whether through state funding disparities, program duplication, or facilities construction, HBCUs in Maryland have generally come up on the short end in the state capital of Annapolis. This history is the source of litigation by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education on behalf of several plaintiffs associated with some of the state’s Black colleges against the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The two sides are presently attempting to reach a settlement in the matter.

At the heart of the litigation is the history of a separate and unequal system of higher education in Maryland. The lawsuit details the development of state supported, “white only” public higher education institutions that received preferential treatment over the network of Black colleges that were created out of necessity to educate Black students. In 1919 the state established the Princess Anne Academy, now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, for Black students who were not allowed to enroll at what is now the University of Maryland. Fourteen years later, Maryland created scholarships for Black students to take courses at all-Black and private Morgan College and institutions outside the state if certain classes were not available at Princess Anne Academy. The lawsuit alleges that in 1965 Maryland created an entirely new college – the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) – that was a complete duplication of Morgan State University and situated in close proximity to the HBCU.

The Coalition notes that in 1969 Maryland was one of ten states that the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) declared operated a racially segregated system of higher education in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Subsequent private litigation also challenged the state to end discriminatory practices in higher education and as a result, criteria were established for states to follow to achieve desegregation. The lawsuit claims that Maryland has never complied with the criteria and has been in violation of a partnership agreement it entered under which it agreed to end discriminatory practices. The Coalition points out that the Office of Civil Rights has never certified Maryland as compliant with Title VI desegregation requirements. Moreover, the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Fordice, a case that found Mississippi in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment due to its segregated system of higher education, created additional requirements on the state. After the Fordice decision, OCR issued a notice applying the standards of the case to all pending evaluations of formerly legally (“de jure”) segregated systems of higher education.

The complaint of the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education spells out in detail the state’s failure with respect to capital enhancements, funding, student retention and graduation, campus programs and activities and faculty and staff diversity. Several of the specific charges include:

During the last four decades, capital improvement projects at Morgan State have taken an average of 11 years from the year the project was initially proposed in the stated plan to the year it received final funding.

When projects at HBCUs are not timely completed, HBCUs are precluded from receiving capital projects budgets necessary to fund additional and existing projects. This denial of funding HBCUs was pervasive from 1985 to 2000.

The state also failed to fund HBCUs consistent with their mission in violation of the 2000 Partnership Agreement.

For the entering class of 1991, the four-year graduation rate for Black students was 14.4%, while the statistic for white students was 30.7%.

In 1996, the second-year retention rate for Black students was 75.7%, whereas that for white students was 82.5%. In 2000, the second-year retention rate for Black students had decreased to 74.9%, whereas that for white students had increased to 84.2%. By 2004, this rate for Blacks had again decreased, now to 72.3%, while increasing again for whites to 84.7%.

Declining white enrollment at HBCUs is evidence of the Defendant’s failure to make those campuses “attractive and welcoming to students of all races.”

HBCUs are at a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining diverse faculty. While the number of non-Black full-time faculty at HBCU’s increased by 10% from 1994 to 2004, non-Black full-time faculty at TWIs (traditionally white institutions) increased by 22.8%. Conversely, Black full-time faculty at HBCUs increased by 44%, while Black full-time faculty at TWIs only increased by 13.9%.

As the opposing parties in the litigation attempt to reach a settlement, the claims raised by the Coalition will resonate in other states where historically Black colleges have experienced similar discriminatory treatment from state governments.

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