A proposal for Morgan State University to offer joint academic programs with Towson University is drawing objections from some Morgan officials who believe such a setup would benefit Towson far more than the Baltimore institution.
The plan, which is in the early stages, emerged just months after a judge ordered the state and the state's four historically black colleges, including Morgan, into mediation to settle alleged disparities in funding and duplication of programs at historically black institutions by other state colleges and universities.
Kweisi Mfume, the chairman of the Morgan Board of Regents, said he is not interested in pursuing joint programs.
"We have no desire at all, at this particular time, this board, to be pursuing any programs with Towson," said Mfume, who added he had not seen the proposals and is seeking more information. "I can tell you the board is not interested in any shared programs right now. We are, as a university, against program duplication."
Timothy Chandler, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Towson, said in response to the Morgan officials' concerns that Towson wants to develop "partnerships with Morgan that are mutually beneficial and enhance the programs of both institutions."
"We're trying to find places where there is real benefit to students, where the faculty are complementary, to put something together that students can't get individually," he said. "It does offer some alternatives that students can't get without those collaborations."
The issue is sensitive because when alumni and students from historically black colleges and universities sued the state in 2005, it was after the approval of a joint venture involving Towson and the University of Baltimore MBA program. The plaintiffs argued it duplicated Morgan's MBA program. That was seen as a final straw in a long-standing complaint that the state was allowing the duplication of unique programs at historically black colleges and universities.
A federal judge ruled in the fall in favor of the alumni and students of historically black colleges, saying the state's policies were segregative. State education leaders have said during mediation they are exploring shared programs between historically black colleges and universities and other state institutions of higher learning as a possible remedy. Such a solution, however, could be complicated by the skepticism raised by Morgan backers.
The joint programs came to light this month when four were placed on the Morgan Board of Regents' agenda for its review but were then removed.
Morgan President David Wilson said the items should not have been placed on the board's agenda for approval because "they have not come through the regular review process" and have "not been appropriately vetted with the appropriate groups." It was a mistake, he said.
"We started some very preliminary discussions with Towson about two years ago when the new president came on board, just to see if there were ways we could collaborate," he said. "Nothing has materialized in terms of any collaborative programs with Towson that are to our liking here at Morgan."
Dallas R. Evans, a Morgan Board of Regents member and the former board chair, questioned the plan.
"The timing is really peculiar," Evans said, referring to the mediation in the lawsuit filed by alumni and students of historically black colleges and universities.
"It's been Morgan's experience that such shared programs have been duplicated. They start out as shared programs ... and next thing you know, the programs are duplicated by the traditionally white institutions."
Evans, who led a move in 2012 to oust Wilson that was later reversed, said, "To put that out in our board book without having talked to the board about it seems like a huge failure in judgment in my view."
The proposals on the early version of the Morgan agenda were for four programs in which students would get bachelor's degrees at Towson in either metropolitan studies or geography and environmental planning, then pursue master's degrees at Morgan for either city and regional planning or landscape architecture. Students would take five years to get their bachelor's and master's degrees in the accelerated programs, with the fourth year being a "blended year" of both undergraduate and graduate-level coursework.
The proposals included an outline of which classes students would likely take each semester and the breakdown of an estimate of hundreds of thousands of dollars in new annual revenue from adding the joint programs. The new programs would build off of classes already being taught at Morgan and would not require additional faculty, according to the agenda.
Chandler said representatives from the two universities had been meeting about once a semester for the last two years about potential collaboration and that the talks have included the four potential programs placed on the early Morgan Board of Regents agenda.
The universities are also discussing shared programs in fields like engineering and construction management, he said. For example, Morgan has a strong engineering department and Towson has a strong geographic information system department that could make for a good joint program, he said.
Chandler said there are many details that the universities still need to figure out — how tuition would be charged being the most significant.
Representatives from the two universities will meet again in the fall to "see where we are at that point," Chandler said. Any joint programs would require the approval of Morgan's Board of Regents, the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, which Towson is a member of, and the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
"Our students are able to take courses at various institutions," Chandler said. "It makes sense to have more than that if there are complete programs that students can take advantage of."
Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun