Maryland higher education officials got some idea yesterday of what the U.S. Office of Civil Rights is looking for before it will sign an agreement on a desegregation plan - better recruitment and retention of African-American students and better buildings at Coppin State College.
At a two-hour meeting in Annapolis, representatives of the federal office, part of the Department of Education, for the first time laid out what they found while visiting nine of the state's public colleges and universities earlier this year.
"There was a gap between the historically black colleges and the traditionally white institutions," said Wendella P. Fox, director of the Philadelphia office of the federal agency. "The historically black schools were not as adequately equipped, and there was a difference in the overall ambience and attractiveness of the facilities."
Fox said that her office was impressed with construction - either under way or planned - at the predominantly black schools, except for Coppin State.
"The facilities at Coppin were particularly noteworthy," she said, citing buildings in disrepair, inadequate equipment and rooms not suited for their use.
Much of Fox's presentation focused on getting more black students into college and seeing more of them earn diplomas. Among her proposals were summer programs before and during the college years, increased counseling and mentoring, and better linkage between community colleges and four-year schools.
She recommended diversity training for campus police and ensuring that minority students have access to appropriate facilities off campus - such as for shopping.
"And you all have to talk to each other," she said of people in the state schools. "You have to share with each other what works and what doesn't work."
After the session with the civil rights officials, Karen Johnson, the state's secretary of education, closed the meeting to the media. Several college presidents, state legislators and other education officials met to discuss drawing up a document that will meet with federal approval.
Unlike previous meetings between the civil rights officials and state education leaders, which focused on the contentious issue of course duplication between historically black and traditionally white schools, yesterday's session showed little disagreement about the recommendations. Nor was there any talk of the need to get more white students in some of the historically black colleges.
James D. Tschechtelin, president of Baltimore City Community College, did sound one cautionary note.
"I think it will be relatively easy to reach an agreement on what we should do," he said of efforts to improve the enrollment and graduation rates of black students. "The hard part will be in changing the results. We have been trying for 10 to 20 years in some cases, but these educational gaps still remain."