Left without remedy, an injustice does not heal. It compounds. This is the fundamental principle behind a 2006 lawsuit filed by a coalition concerned for the state’s four historically black colleges and universities: Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. It alleges that the state funded largely white institutions at the expense of the HBCUs.
These HBCUs recently proposed to settle this lawsuit with a $577 million investment in their schools — a figure less than Mississippi paid in a similar case. Yet, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan offered only $200 million and has refused to negotiate further. In response, HBCU faculty, alumni, students and supporters rallied in protest Wednesday.
I applaud the students and advocates who are using their voice to highlight this gross injustice. But it shouldn’t only be up to them to take up that fight. As a presidential candidate and the son of educators, I believe it’s long past time that we give Historically Black Colleges and Universities the funding they deserve and ensure these institutions continue to provide students of color with greater opportunities.
HBCUs were founded as a response to discrimination and continue to serve students and communities as engines of empowerment. From Maryland to South Carolina, from Florida to Oklahoma, these schools have produced 80% of the country’s black judges and educated 25% of African-Americans holding STEM degrees. Toni Braxton, the Grammy-winning R&B singer, attended Bowie State. One of my key advisors is a Morgan State University graduate. And one of my competitors for the presidential nomination, Senator Kamala Harris, is a proud Howard University Bison.
Lawsuits like the one in Maryland remind all of us how an uneven playing field yields underfunded colleges, declining federal funding and endowments that lag behind those of predominantly white institutions. As president, I will increase funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions by $50 billion. These resources will allow the consortium of black colleges and universities to make long term investments in faculty, facilities and student retention rates.
At the same time, we’ll ensure more young people have access to college, including public HBCUs, by providing free tuition to low- and middle-class students and making basic living expenses free for the lowest-income students. Students receiving Pell Grants will be able to afford basic living expenses such as housing and transportation, enabling low-income students to graduate debt free. We will cancel student debt for borrowers in low-quality, predatory for-profit programs, and expand and improve loan repayment options for students who participate in national service or pursue public service careers.
These investments in educational equity are part of my broader vision to tear down systemic racism. It’s a plan that recognizes that everything is connected, that every time we sit down to talk about race and policing, by the end of the hour we're also talking about economic empowerment. But we can’t talk about economic empowerment without talking about education. And we can’t talk about education without addressing the way neighborhoods are drawn and the way that impacts homeownership and health and even whose voice is excluded at the ballot box.
My vision is to tackle all these challenges in a systemic way. We will cut mass incarceration in half, with no increase in crime, through steps like legalizing marijuana and eliminating incarceration for drug possession. We’ll create a $10-billion federal fund, modeled on Maryland’s successful TEDCO fund, to co-invest in entrepreneurs of color, and defer and forgive college loans for Pell-eligible students who start and maintain businesses. We’ll deliver a 21st Century Homestead Act so that people living in historically redlined communities can buy properties and build wealth instead of being forced out by gentrification. We’ll designate Health Equity Zones to help communities develop effective local strategies, and recruit more black doctors, nurses and health professionals. And we’ll pass a 21st Century Voting Rights Act to make it easier — not harder — to vote.
It is not enough simply to replace a racist policy with a neutral one and assume inequity will take care of itself. Experience has shown that it doesn’t work that way. The policies that created today’s inequality were put in place intentionally, and we need intentional, anti-racist action to reverse these harms.
Sixty-five years ago, the Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” It was Thurgood Marshall, a son of Maryland and an HBCU graduate twice over, who advocated so eloquently for that outcome. In 2020, let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of equality — in education and across every facet of our society.
Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) is mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2020 United States presidential election.