Emphasizing that they are seeking a partnership with Maryland, not a confrontation, officials from the Office of Civil Rights told state education officials yesterday that they expect to have a final agreement on desegregation signed by the end of September.
"I think this is good news today," Patricia S. Florestano, the state secretary of higher education, said after the three-hour meeting with federal officials in Annapolis. "They told us instead of setting goals for us that ... we can write our own plan and set our own goals."
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has been in Maryland since last year conducting an assessment of the desegregation status of the state's higher education system, paying visits to all of the state's public campuses. The federal goal is to see that sufficient numbers of blacks are attending formerly all-white schools and that more white students are enrolling at historically black schools.
Maryland is one of seven states with historically black colleges and universities that have been in negotiations with the federal government over racial imbalances that are the legacy of the formerly segregated university systems. Five have signed agreements with the Justice Department, leaving Maryland and Virginia still in the negotiating stage. The most contentious issue to this point has been allowing Morgan State University to maintain exclusivity in the Baltimore area over doctorates in education and business and to offer an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering - exclusivity that Morgan officials say they need to attract more white students.
Federal officials have backed Morgan's stance, saying that without exclusivity, the historically black school will be unable to attract white students.
Yesterday, Wendella P. Fox, director of the Office of Civil Rights Philadelphia office, said that more than course exclusivity is needed to get large number of white students to attend the historically black schools. "You need to put top quality programs in place and then get everybody in the state singing the same song: that you can get a quality education at Morgan," she said.
Fox also said other issues, including retention and graduation rate of black students at all schools, including community colleges, are also in question.
When pressed for specifics about where Maryland was not living up to federal standards, Fox and her colleagues demurred. She referred the state officials to other desegregation plans her office has signed.
The Maryland representatives ended the meeting feeling that much of what the federal civil rights officials are looking for is in place in the state.
"When they start looking at the numbers, they will see that the state of Maryland is ahead of any other state in the nation in terms of compliance with Title 6," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Democrat from Baltimore, referring to the civil rights law that forms the basis for the federal examination of the state's higher education system.
Florestano said: "I think I could sit down right now and write a report about what the state intends to do that would satisfy them on everything but the issue of course duplication. That's still the toughest issue."