Attorneys for state's historically black universities propose spending millions to remedy segregation

Attorneys for Maryland's historically black universities said Thursday that the state should spend hundreds of millions of dollars to transfer academic programs from traditionally white institutions to remedy segregation.

In a case that has wound its way though the court system over the past decade, advocates have contended that Maryland fosters segregation by allowing well funded core academic programs at traditionally white universities to undermine similar ones at historically black schools.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake, who ruled in 2013 that the university system had a "shameful history" of segregation, heard closing arguments Thursday in a trial over how to solve the problem.

Thursday brought a lawsuit filed in 2006 by a coalition of historically black colleges' alumni, faculty and supporters "to a crescendo," said David Burton, president of the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education.

Their lawyers propose transferring about 20 academic programs now offered at traditionally white universities to historically black institutions as a way to attract more racially diverse student bodies.

They also called for about 70 new programs — including many that would be "unique or in high demand" — to be developed at historically black institutions, which they said would allow the schools to develop distinct identities.

The lawyers for the coalition estimated that new programs split between the four schools — Coppin State and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne — would cost between about $230 million and $650 million over five years, plus $200 million to enhance existing programs and $200 million for marketing and scholarships over 10 years.

"Serious constitutional violations may require serious costs," lawyer Michael Jones said.

Cy Smith, an attorney for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said the proposal is the "worst, most destructive thing that can be done."

He argued that transferring programs to historically black institutions would effectively shut down many academic programs, harming students across the state.

University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke wrote in 2015 that the proposal would "threaten to reduce access to opportunity that UB has historically provided to underserved populations in the state."

The state has proposed spending $50 million over five years to three of the historically black institutions, excluding the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where there is less program duplication and more students of other races.

The money would go toward marketing, multicultural centers and activities, and scholarships aimed at increasing diversity.

Smith said the proposal would allow each institution to determine how to best increase diversity on its campus. Unlike the transfer proposal, he said, it would not "blow up" Maryland's system of higher education.

In the 1970s, the four historically black institutions had white student populations of about 20 percent. By 2009, they plummeted to an average of around 5 percent.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission in 2005 approved a joint MBA program between Towson University and the University of Baltimore, drawing the current lawsuit. Morgan State officials said the new program would deter students, particularly white students, from taking advantage of its own MBA offering.

"This unnecessary program duplication program lies at the heart of what we're fighting in this case," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is behind the lawsuit.

Towson and University of Baltimore officials ended the joint program in 2015.

Clarke said the state's proposal doesn't address the need for independent monitoring and a process "to ensure that program duplication doesn't happen in the future."

Blake said she aimed to come to a decision in a "reasonable period of time," but did not set a deadline.

"These issues are extremely complex," she said, "and of great importance to everyone."

Clarke's organization has compared the lawsuit to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 school desegregation case.

"Even after Brown v. Board of Education, Maryland continues to operate an unlawful, racially segregated system," she said. "We believe this case will provide a road map for other states that are struggling to racially desegregate their higher- education systems."

trichman@baltsun.com

@TaliRichman

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