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Morgan president again fights budding competitor

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Earl S. Richardson, Morgan State University's tenacious president, is trying once again to keep another college from starting a new program.

And once again, he's basing his argument on Maryland's segregated past.

This time, Richardson is trying to stop Towson University from offering a Master's of Business Administration degree, saying students ought to get their MBAs at Morgan instead.

Allowing Towson to begin an MBA program would give white students another reason not to attend his historically black school, he says, and thus perpetuate an old system of racial segregation.

"Morgan takes no pleasure in doing this, but the system must be equitable," Richardson says.

He has had success with this argument before.

In the past five years, Richardson has four times stopped public universities in Maryland from launching new programs by pointing to an agreement Maryland entered in 1992 with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, which requires that the state encourage students to attend historically black universities by not duplicating programs they offer.

The civil rights agreement is based on a 1992 Supreme Court decision that historically black universities not be harmed when formerly segregated systems are integrated.

"It's not being protective for the sake of being protective. It's protecting a higher cause," Richardson says.

But his position infuriates some critics, who say he is blocking programs the state needs while failing to make sure Morgan's academic offerings are competitive. They point out that Morgan's MBA enrollment has been dropping for years.

"Morgan has simply not delivered for the citizens of Maryland," says Towson University President Robert L. Caret.

Program halted

Richardson's arguments were compelling enough that the Maryland Higher Education Commission decided last month to temporarily halt the Towson program, which was envisioned as an expansion of the existing MBA program at the University of Baltimore. In late May, the commissioners ordered the three schools to negotiate further and report back in 60 days.

Many believe that Richardson - who has rebuffed previous requests to offer programs jointly with other schools - will not be open to compromise, and that his opposition will be enough to scuttle the Towson program.

"Maybe this time will be different, but his style has been to object rather than to collaborate," says Patricia Florestano, a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents who was formerly state higher education secretary.

Richardson, 61, Morgan's president for the past two decades, is arguing from a position of strength. In 2000, he and Morgan squelched four programs that had initially won the approval of state officials. Morgan opposed a master's program in history and a doctoral education program at Towson, saying they mirrored programs at Morgan. Morgan also blocked a graduate business program at UB and an electrical engineering program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In four other cases, schools simply dropped their proposals to offer new programs after learning of Morgan's objections.

Attracting students

Caret and university system officials are eager to offer an MBA at Towson because they believe it will make the university more attractive to students generally. State officials predict an additional 40,000 students will enroll in Maryland's public universities over the next decade - and they want to steer many of them to Towson.

Towson's new MBA would be offered in conjunction with UB, which would in effect expand its current MBA program to offer classes at the Towson campus. The program would accommodate about 30 additional students the first year and would eventually grow to about 90 additional students. Graduates would receive a joint degree from both schools. Last year, 164 students received their MBA from UB.

State officials estimate the new program would cost about $150,000 to operate the first year. The cost would grow to more than $1 million by the fifth year of the program.

Richardson argues that the state would be better served by putting more resources into Morgan's MBA program. "We should put resources into improving existing programs, not creating new ones," he says.

Critics point out that enrollment in Morgan's MBA program has been falling. In 1975, 263 students took MBA classes at Morgan, including 54 white students. Those numbers have steadily declined. Last year, 28 students took MBA courses at Morgan. None was white.

Towson officials, among others, say the declining enrollment shows that the Morgan MBA program is not attractive to students. But Richardson says there are two factors that contribute to the drop in Morgan's numbers.

Since the 1970s, private universities, including Loyola College and the Johns Hopkins University, have begun offering MBA or other graduate business degree programs. About 80 percent of Baltimore-area MBA candidates earn their degrees at private schools, according to state statistics.

Program funding

Richardson also says that Morgan historically has been underfunded by the state and as a result has not been able to build top-notch facilities to attract students. McMechen Hall, where most business classes are held, was built in 1972, school officials note.

"Equal funding won't get us where we need to go. We need a massive infusion of funds," Richardson says. "It's an issue of fairness."

When asked how much money it would take to get Morgan on equal footing, Richardson shrugs. "A lot," he says.

According to a recent state survey, Morgan received $185 million in capital funding from the state from 1989 to 2003, ranking the college fourth among the state's 13 public campuses.

"Just look at the numbers and then tell me if he's underfunded," says H. Mebane Turner, former president of the University of Baltimore.

Richardson says he is willing to continue negotiating with Towson and UB officials but makes it clear that he is unwilling to bend much. He acknowledges that during two previous meetings with Towson officials, he declined to offer a joint MBA degree with Towson. He says he is willing to send Morgan professors to teach at Towson but says any degree must be a Morgan degree, not a shared one.

Richardson says he "pleaded with" Caret to accept his offer. "We wanted to find a way to work this out," he says.

It pains him, he says, that some critics describe him as obstructionist. But he makes no apologies for his approach.

"Any leader who is not protective of his organization is not a leader," he says.

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