When Morgan State University President David Wilson visited The Sun’s editorial board this week, the phrase on his lips was “Morgan momentum.” He had a great story to tell. Enrollment is increasing at a time when it is flat or declining at most other Maryland public universities. The percentage of students who return after their freshman year is up, and the graduation rate is skyrocketing. Students are starting businesses, studying abroad and interning in Silicon Valley. Faculty research productivity is up, and the campus is undergoing a building boom.
That’s not just good for Morgan, it’s good for the entire state. Morgan educates a large share of students who are the first in their families to go to college, and its success is crucial to fostering social mobility and equal opportunity and to producing the highly educated workforce that is crucial to Maryland’s economic competitiveness. What’s more, its identity as a public urban research university means its faculty is focused on solving problems faced by cities like Baltimore, from health disparities to poor transportation networks. We need to keep Morgan’s momentum going.
What could derail it is the threat of crime, real or perceived, on and around campus. Two Morgan State students were killed near campus in the last six months. In April, Kevon Dix, a 21-year-old Baltimore native who was a tenor in Morgan’s choir, was shot and killed on his way home from a friend’s house where he had been doing homework. Then in July, Manuel Luis Jr., a 19-year-old business major who friends described as the light in any situation, was fatally shot during an attempted robbery near the Morgan View Apartments. Two other students were fatally stabbed near campus three years ago.
The university has taken several steps on its own to increase security, including hiring unarmed guards, working with the city on improving street lighting and increasing the frequency of shuttles between campus and surrounding neighborhoods. Morgan’s regents this month fast-tracked the construction of new campus housing, and the off-campus, private Morgan View Apartments, whose residents are almost entirely if not exclusively Morgan students, has been a particular focus of attention for the administration.
But the most meaningful thing Morgan could do to increase the safety of its students, faculty and staff would be to upgrade its police force. Mr. Wilson wants to do that, bringing it from about 40 officers to about 60, and to expand its jurisdiction to cover not just university property but limited areas around campus. For that, he needs funding (about $2 million a year) and approval from the General Assembly.
The proposal comes on the heels of a two-year effort by Johns Hopkins University to get state approval to create its own police force, which only succeeded after an intensive outreach effort by the school to communities surrounding the campus, a strong lobbying push in Annapolis and an agreement to extensive transparency and accountability measures. Even then, it barely got the approval of the city’s state Senate delegation.
It’s not yet clear whether Morgan will face the same degree of skepticism for its plans that Hopkins did — after all, it already has a police force and is a public institution rather than a private one — but the school shouldn’t wait around to find out. It should immediately begin an open dialogue with stakeholders on and off campus (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development helped Hopkins with that), and it should adopt the same kinds of community safeguards that Hopkins agreed to.
Mr. Wilson says he is willing to do all of that. Provided he does, we hope Gov. Larry Hogan and the legislature will provide the funding and authority the school needs to expand its police force. Morgan’s momentum is too important to squander.