The rolling fields of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (Courtesy photo)

Over 10 years after the initial complaint that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Maryland operated separate and unequal, a federal district court in the state heard closing arguments in the one of the most significant higher education desegregation cases of the past two decades.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and partners presented closing arguments in the remedial trial of The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education v. Maryland Higher Education Commission on Thursday, June 8.

“For students across Maryland, the goals of Brown vs Board of Education remain unfulfilled,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the lawyers’ committee. “We are fighting this case because we know that HBCUs play a critical role in the educational landscape of our country, and with proper support and funding from the state, they can attract racially diverse pools of students.

“We eagerly await a decision from the court which will hopefully place Maryland on a long overdue path to racial desegregation,” Clarke said.

The Lawyer’s Committee claims that the case confirms Maryland’s affirmative obligation to desegregate its HBCUs.

In October 2013, Judge Catherine Blake held that unnecessary program duplication between Maryland’s HBCUs and traditionally white institutions (TWIs) perpetuates segregation at the HBCUs.

The coalition, comprised of students and alumni of Maryland’s HBCUs, called for the state to address its failure to dismantle the vestiges of segregation in its higher education system. In February, the court conducted a six-week bench trial on remedies.

“Judge Blake has already determined that unnecessary program duplication contributed to a dual structure within Maryland’s system of higher education,” said Michael Jones of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, one of the attorneys for the Coalition. “Additionally, Judge Blake explicitly stated that remedies would be required. It is incredulous that the state, after all this time, continues to deny liability and argues that no remedy will desegregate Maryland’s HBCUs.”

In order to dismantle the dual system of higher education in Maryland, plaintiffs propose that the court establish distinct institutional identities at the HBCUs comprised of unique and high-demand academic programs or degrees.

The plaintiffs recommend a number of academic niches at the HBCUs to consist of new and transferred programs and the enhancement of current programs.

Additionally, the coalition proposes a revision of the state’s program approval process to require the state to address both existing as well as future unnecessary duplication.

“As a Coppin State University student, I am disappointed in the state of Maryland for the duplication of academic programs and inadequate funding between HBCUs and TWIs,” said Brandon Walker. “My hope is that Maryland will finally fulfill its commitment to all of the students attending HBCUs.”

The state submits that there’s no remedy required, because there is no evidence that unique or high-demand programs have the potential to desegregate Maryland’s HBCUs.
However, the state did file a new post-trial remedial proposal that purports to diversify the HBCUs through enrollment management, student aid, campus inclusion initiatives and summer programs.

A verdict in the case will come down in the coming months, according to the committee.

“I am proud to be a member of the coalition, and I am proud of our lawyers,” said David Burton, coalition president. “HBCUs have always been forced to do more with less, and it is my sincere hope that Judge Blake’s remedial order will finally make sure that Maryland’s HBCUs receive the resources they need to attract and educate students of all races.”

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Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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