Why Coppin and Morgan Shouldn't Merge


As part of the state plan for postsecondary education, Higher Education Secretary Shaila R. Aery has recommended that the Maryland Higher Education Commission study the consolidation of Morgan State University and Coppin State College in order, presumably, to strengthen their ability to address urban problems. We are strongly opposed to this recommendation, which apparently is based on the assumptions that historically black institutions are essentially alike because they serve primarily the African American community and that that community is homogeneous in its educational needs.

These assumptions could not be further from reality: Coppin State College and Morgan State University are two very different institutions with different and complimentary roles and missions and teaching, research and public-service functions.

Indeed, the Higher Education Commission itself has already accepted both Coppin's mission statement defining its role as an urban college within the state university system and Morgan's statement of its role as an independent university. Consolidating the two would eliminate the mission of Coppin as college, eliminating a significant component in the mix of educational institutions and services now provided to the citizens of Maryland in general and of Baltimore and the inner city in particular.

As an historically black institution, Coppin does serve a role similar to that served by Morgan and other historically black institutions. Studies show that African Americans who begin their collegiate education at historically black institutions tend to succeed at higher rates than do those who go directly to white institutions, where they frequently get lost academically, socially and psychologically. Those who begin at black institutions tend to do better when they move on to white institutions as part of dual-degree, graduate or professional-school programs.

There are four historically black institutions in Maryland. Each enjoys a different status and serves a unique mission: Bowie as a comprehensive regional university, Coppin as an urban college, Morgan as an independent urban university and Maryland Eastern Shore as a land-grant institution. Unfortunately, it appears from the the plan that there is little awareness of these distinctions or knowledge of Coppin State's role. This is dramatically reflected in the assertion that Coppin is "a historically black teachers' college."

Coppin shifted from a teachers college to an arts and sciences institution in 1962, and now less than 15 percent of its 2,300 students are enrolled in the teacher-education program. Perhaps some knowledge of who we are, what we do and how we are connected to our community will be helpful in understanding our objection to what we consider a very misguided recommendation.

Coppin State has a rich history extending over a 91-year existence -- from its beginning as a one-year training program in January 1900 through its development into a two-year Normal Department at Douglass High School in 1902; a separate Normal Department with its own principal in 1909; the Fannie Jackson Coppin Normal School in 1926; Coppin Teachers College in 1930; Coppin State Teachers College in 1950; the four-year liberal arts and teacher-education college under the Board of Trustees of State Colleges in 1962; as a comprehensive college in 1970 and as Coppin State College of the University of Maryland System in 1988.

The record will clearly show that Coppin has made an outstanding contribution to Baltimore and to Maryland through programs in such liberal-arts areas as English, history, mathematics and psychology; in professional-degree programs such as criminal justice, nursing, adaptive physical education, computer science, teacher education and adult education.

From these and other programs, our graduates -- many from very humble backgrounds -- are accepted into some of the finest graduate and professional schools in the country. On the a value-added measure, no other senior college in Maryland can ++ compare with the output of Coppin State.

Coppin is a college, a channel by which our students can either move directly into careers which require only the bachelor's degree for entry, or advance to further study at the graduate or professional-school level. Given the scope of programs across the University of Maryland system, Coppin can leverage even more opportunities for its students by working with the system's other member institutions.

Thus, we maintain cooperative relationships with many institutions. These arrangements enable us to offer our students access to both undergraduate and professional-school programs at minimum cost and with maximum support. Among these programs are the cooperative programs in child development with Towson State University and in social work with the University of Maryland Baltimore County; dual-degree programs in engineering with UMBC and Morgan State University; dual-degree programs in dentistry and pharmacy with the University of Maryland at Baltimore; and ROTC with Morgan.

During the past three years, we have sent a significant number of students to graduate programs at College Park in such areas as English, family and community development, psychology and joint history-library science program. Through our honors and Ronald McNair post-baccalaureate degree programs, we are sending students on to graduate study at such institutions as Bowling Green State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University.

Within the metropolitan area, our graduates continue to make significant contributions to the community of which the college is such an integral part. Large numbers of Baltimore City public school administrative staff and classroom faculty are graduates of Coppin State's teacher-education program, and significant numbers of city and state correctional officials and officers are graduates of the college's criminal-justice program.

The majority of Maryland's African American nursing graduates are graduates of Coppin's 15-year-old nursing program. Significant numbers of the special education teachers in the city schools and in other public institutions are Coppin graduates. Coppin State is thought to have more graduates working in the Baltimore City government than any other regional institution.

In spite of the changes over the past 91 years -- from a Normal Department to a comprehensive college -- in a very special way, Coppin has remained a college of teachers, not a college for teachers only. While they recognize that research is essential to maintaining their knowledge, Coppin faculty concentrate on their role as teachers, and the college as a whole recognizes that its primary mission is not as a research institution, but as a teaching institution.

I would point out that achieving the goal of racial equality remains the most important item on the nation's unfinished social agenda and that historically black institutions are vital to this process. Accordingly, emphasis should be placed on enhancing the historically black institutions, rather than on merging, consolidating and closing them. In fact, in 1985 Maryland authorities promised the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights that the state's four black institutions would be enhanced.

This agreement grew out of a recognition that those institutions had made a contribution to the state, in spite of a significant funding gap compared with predominantly white colleges. And the 1988 higher education reorganization legislation included a clear understanding that the historically black institutions deserved enhancement and a mandate that it be carried out. It is unlikely that the Office of Civil Rights or the Maryland General Assembly meant enhancement to be defined as consolidating the historically black institutions.

Coppin State College is not a research-oriented university like Morgan, but a teaching-oriented college. There is simply no educational justification for consolidating Coppin with Morgan or with any other institution of higher education.

Coppin takes seriously its critical mission: the preparation of students for graduate and professional study, for professional careers, for participation in American culture and society. Teaching-oriented historically black institutions have a special mission: the preparation of African American students for entry into mainstream American life at all levels. Coppin State College has been fulfilling that mission for almost a century. It is imperative that it be allowed to continue doing so for another hundred years.

Calvin W. Burnett has been Coppin's president since 1970.

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