Nearly 300 students, activists and lawmakers rallied at Maryland’s capital Wednesday in support of the state’s historically black universities and to express their displeasure to the state legislature over what they call a low offer to settle a 13-year-old lawsuit.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan offered $200 million for the schools in September to settle a legal battle between the state and the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education that is more than a decade old. The coalition, which includes alumni from Maryland’s four historically black institutions, is seeking $577 million after a District Court judge ruled in 2017 that the state must remedy the harm caused by duplicating HBCU-specific programs at other institutions.
Hogan, a Republican, has stated the $200 million is his final offer. But members of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus gathered hundreds of people Wednesday to pressure the governor to reconsider.
“It’s a smack in the face,” said Kayla Moore, 23, a Coppin State University graduate and elementary school teacher, of the settlement offer.
Students from the four institutions across the state — Coppin State, Morgan State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore — piled off buses in Annapolis to join alumni in representing their schools. Hundreds of people in attendance braved the cold, singing school fight songs between speakers.
One speaker said the governor’s offer was shortchanging the institutions. Fedelis Tucker, who attends Bowie State, said education has the power to lift “us up.”
“Education is the great equalizer...," Tucker said. "There is no reason not to fund equality.”
Ajah Thomas, freshman class president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, took a two-hour bus ride from campus to join students and alumni from the state’s other historically black institutions.
“This is why I came to [an] HBCU, having this ability to advocate for my people and just being a part of this mass is a big deal,” said Thomas, 18.
It would cost the state an estimated $1 billion to repay Maryland’s four historically black institutions for failing to adequately fund the schools and for duplicating programs that would have attracted potential students to the institutions. Maryland’s District Court ruled the duplication of programs undercut the ability of HBCUs to compete on a level playing field with its counterparts.
The Morning Sun
“The lawsuit should be settled close to what the courts have said, which is a billion dollars to $2 billion dollars,” said Del. Darryl Barnes, a Prince George’s County Democrat and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.
If the governor doesn’t reconsider, Barnes said other lawmakers will step up.
“There will be a bill that we will introduce this upcoming session to settle this thing if he doesn’t want to do it himself," Barnes said.
In an op-ed published online Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg praised the rallying students and pledged to increase funding to HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions by $50 billion if elected.
Speakers at the rally highlighted the national heroes who have come out of Maryland’s historically black institutions — such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who recently died. A statue of Marshall usually stands in front of the state capitol building, though it has been moved for repairs.
Lawmakers emphasized the economic impact HBCUs have by educating the state’s future lawyers and doctors.
In a September letter to Barnes, Hogan’s office said the settlement offer of $200 million is fair and practical, and the state continues to increase funding for the historically black institutions’ operating and capital budgets. Hogan’s office also encouraged the coalition to accept the settlement to avoid incurring increasing litigation costs.