Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan at an April news conference in Annapolis. The governor has offered $200 million over several years as a "final offer" to settle a lawsuit brought by the state's historically black college and universities.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan at an April news conference in Annapolis. The governor has offered $200 million over several years as a "final offer" to settle a lawsuit brought by the state's historically black college and universities. (Katherine Frey)

Two weeks ago, we implored Gov. Larry Hogan and members of the General Assembly to come up with a reasonable offer to end a 13-year-old lawsuit brought by a coalition seeking to right historic wrongs on behalf of the state’s four historically black colleges and universities: (HBCU) Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. But reasonable does not appear to be his thing on this issue.

The group put forth a good faith proposal seeking $577 million to bolster educational offerings at the schools and undo some of the damage done from years of inequity; members also made significant concessions on certain sticking points in order to bring the bitter litigation to an end and asked for a meeting with the governor’s office.

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Mr. Hogan responded, sans meeting, with a take it or leave it offer of $200 million — a figure that won’t adequately address the state practices that sabotaged the success of these educational institutions for years, in part by funding competing programs at white colleges and universities. The offer, made in a letter from Mr. Hogan’s attorney to a key lawmaker, is higher than the $100 million over 10 years he initially proposed last year, we’ll give him that.

It is also far below the middle ground proposal that the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education recommended after court mediation failed once again this summer. It is even further from the $1 billion the HBCUs and others said it would cost to really remedy the inequities a federal judge acknowledged were created by the state and should be addressed. Mr. Hogan’s no-room-for-negotiation offer comes across as little more than an attempt to get rid of what has become an irritation rather than a solid effort to truly redress the damage of the past.

The governor’s argument that he has provided record funding to the HBCUs is a bit disingenuous given inflation and the fact that higher education funding increases each year. Plus, what he has already funded is a moot point if it doesn’t cover the cost of remedying past discrimination. It also doesn’t matter that his offer is higher than former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s, as Mr. Hogan’s legal counsel pointed out. Comparing one bad offer to another does not make for a good defense. This case has languished in court way too long, and many administrations and both political parties share in the blame.

Think of all the money that could have gone to the schools rather than the cost of expensive, years-long litigation.

We still contend Maryland’s HBCUs should get at least as much as schools in Mississippi received in a similar case; they were awarded about $500 million in 2002, or $791 million by today’s standards, and that was for just three schools. That makes the settlement offered by the Maryland HBCUs seem like a steal and shows their willingness to give a little. An attorney for the schools acknowledges that the funds won’t fix everything or cover the full cost of a remedy, but that it is a good compromise figure and can provide relief to the schools immediately. In another concession, the HBCUs once proposed transferring specific programs from white institutions to the their campuses, but an attorney said they are now focusing on building up “the program inventory” at the HBCUs instead.

Any money the colleges and universities get will be used to develop unique, in-demand academic programs and to hire faculty to run them. The schools would also use the money for scholarships to attract a diverse array of students and marketing to help overcome a stigma that the institutions are not as academically up to par as other higher education institutions.

That, Mr. Hogan, is extending an olive branch. What’s not is sending a letter to the chair of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, Darryl Barnes, with a set in stone offer reached without discussion — that’s adding insult to injury. Now, it is up to Mr. Barnes and the other members of the General Assembly to do what Mr. Hogan won’t: hammer out a plan that is meaningful and truly puts the HBCUs in a better position. We’re glad to see that Mr. Barnes is up for the fight.

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