CAN'T WE all just get along?
Apparently not in Maryland higher education. Fights over academic turf aren't unusual in the Free State, and higher-education politics are generally a notch above vicious, but the battle being waged on several fronts in the Baltimore area is the bloodiest in memory.
Towson University wants to launch its first doctoral program in education. The University of Baltimore wants to offer a doctorate in business. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County wants to reinstate electrical engineering, a popular discipline it lost to Morgan State University nearly two decades ago.
Morgan wants to protect all three programs from competition. Backed by the federal Office for Civil Rights, it has managed to put the first two on hold and to have UMBC's plan rejected this month, a week after it was submitted to state higher-education regulators.
What makes these turf wars particularly bloody is that the Maryland Higher Education Commission earlier had ruled that the UB and Towson plans did not duplicate long-standing programs at Morgan and wouldn't harm the historically black university. (Towson had proposed a cooperative program involving Frostburg and Salisbury state universities.)
But the federal civil rights office, which has been monitoring desegregation in Maryland higher education since 1974, sided with Morgan, noting a 1992 Supreme Court decision that led a lower court to rule that a Mississippi college could not offer a program duplicated at a nearby black school. The federal officials urged the Marylanders to consider collaborating, thus promoting diversity without course duplication.
The result: The Maryland Higher Education Commission is left with egg on its face. Morgan is in the position of a poker player dealt all the aces; in effect, it can veto any proposed program judged to duplicate one on the Northeast Baltimore campus. Officials at Towson, UMBC and UB are wounded. Towson officials had to rescind letters sent to 96 prospective doctoral students, and they believe few will enroll in the Morgan "urban leadership" program.
And if the government orders Morgan to collaborate with its neighbor, the word from Morgan isn't encouraging. "We've always said we'll collaborate," says Earl S. Richardson, Morgan president, "but we won't compromise."
The government is right to be worried about segregation at Morgan, which has become the most heavily black of Maryland's four historically black institutions. Only 1 percent of undergraduates and 11 percent of graduate students in the academic year just ended were white, according to the higher education commission. Three of 249 elementary education majors were white, and that pattern prevailed in other disciplines.
"They just don't come here," Richardson says of white students. One reason is that they're going elsewhere, to majority-white institutions. Taken together, UMBC, UB and Towson enroll more African-Americans than Morgan; UMBC's black enrollment is close to 17 percent, and many of those students are in the nationally praised honors program.
In defending itself, Morgan uses the slogan from "Field of Dreams": If you build it, they will come. But in the early 1980s, the state, to promote diversity at Morgan, culled the popular electrical engineering program at UMBC and moved it across town.
But only a handful of whites are studying electrical engineering at Morgan.
Richardson looks at it differently. Consider, he says, the hundreds of black engineers turned out by Morgan over those years. They would not have been educated - in such numbers - at a historically white school.
The Morgan president looks at his school through the lens of modern history. Morgan's enrollment doubled between 1965 and 1972, and in 1971, half of its graduate students were white. But in those years Morgan and Coppin State College, with distinct missions, had much less competition.
Along came UMBC. Towson's enrollment exploded. UB, a private college known mostly for its law school, went public and strengthened its business programs. Program duplication cost Morgan money, reputation and students between 1972 and 1986, Richardson says. "If programs had not been duplicated, Morgan would have a campus of 16,000 students. Imagine what that would do for the campus and the community and the city!" (Enrollment is 6,100.)
Will Morgan, the clear winner so far in these wars, collaborate with any other school on a joint or dual degree program? There are a few instructive examples in Maryland.
The oldest, launched in 1996, is a graduate program in teacher education run by Salisbury State and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, the most integrated of the state's historically black schools. In Baltimore, students can earn a master's in human services administration at Coppin and UB, taking 16 credits on each campus and earning a dual diploma.
In Salisbury and Baltimore, a shuttle links the cooperating campuses. And about 220 Salisbury and UMES students this year took courses at the "other" campus, proving it is possible to look beyond race and to protect academic turf by the act of sharing it.