State officials and attorneys representing Maryland's historically black colleges and universities will head to mediation to resolve the remnants of a legal battle spurred by the institutions' complaint that the state hasn't done enough to help them overcome segregation-era policies.
Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said that the parties, have "agreed to attempt to mediate the remaining issue in the case," and that U.S. District Court Judge Paul W. Grimm will serve as the mediator.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake found that state universities have unnecessarily duplicated academic programs of the four historically black institutions, violating the constitutional rights of those students.
A 2006 lawsuit filed on behalf students and alumni of four of Maryland's HBCUs — Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State and University of Maryland Eastern Shore — said the duplication of the programs hampered their success because it drew students away.
"I think it's fair to say that the state is giving mixed signals, because while they are agreeing to go to mediation, they've also indicated that they would like to go through with an appeal as well," said Michael Jones, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
During mediation, he said they must move forward to determine the framework that promotes higher educational and efficiency. But, he said they also must be prepared if the state continues to argue against the judge's decision.
A 60-page opinion, issued by Blake on Oct. 7, found that certain high-demand specialty programs duplicated by traditionally white schools — a form of "separate but equal" — encouraged segregation among campuses by drawing students from the state's black schools.
However, Blake ruled that the state's funding of historically black universities did not violate the rights of students, which was also alleged in the lawsuit.
When the opinion was issued, a spokesman for O'Malley said, "We respectfully disagree with the court's conclusions regarding duplication."
Blake urged mediation, and wrote that a likely outcome would be "expansion of mission and program uniqueness and institutional identity" at historically black institutions. She added that, "the transfer or merger of select high demand programs" from traditionally white institutions to historically black ones would likely be needed.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.
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