Maryland Gov. Hogan and Lt. Governor Rutherford attend the bill signing at Bowie State University. (Joe Andrucyk/Office of the Governor)
Maryland Gov. Hogan and Lt. Governor Rutherford attend the bill signing at Bowie State University. (Joe Andrucyk/Office of the Governor)

A 15-year struggle to settle a federal lawsuit over the disparities in academic programs at Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) finally appears over, with Gov. Larry Hogan signing a measure this week to provide $577 million to Bowie State, Coppin State, Morgan State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The Republican governor had previously vetoed a similar bill but changed course after the legislation received sizable bipartisan support.

“No governor in the history of the state has ever invested more in Maryland’s HBCUs,” Hogan said Wednesday during a bill-signing ceremony at Bowie State. “Our administration has advanced more than a billion dollars in major projects at all four HBCUs in Maryland, including for the new Communication, Arts and Humanities Building here at Bowie State.”

A final settlement agreement is now the only thing standing in the way of payments to the state’s HBCUs, and lead attorney Michael Jones has said that will occur on June 1.

Payments to the schools should begin in 2023.

“We finally got to this day,” said Maryland Democratic House Speaker Adrienne Jones.

Jones, Maryland’s first Black House speaker and sponsor of the bill, had long advocated for a settlement in the dispute.

“I know what can and can’t be done,” Jones told a large gathering of HBCU students and supporters during a rally in early 2020.

“I’m just as anxious [to get this done] as you are,” she said, noting that she has a sister and a child who are HBCU graduates.

In a lawsuit filed in 2006, the schools alleged that Maryland had underfunded them, and the state used the funds to create new programs at white colleges and universities that directly competed with the HBCUs.

The suit alleged that the state was complicit in the move by white colleges to take students who would otherwise have chosen an HBCU.

In 2013, a federal judge ruled against the state, noting that it had a “dual and segregated education system that violated the U.S. Constitution.”

The judge ordered mediation between the parties, but years passed, and attempts at a settlement proved fruitless.

Two years ago, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered more mediation while the schools and advocates called on Hogan to settle the dispute.

“We call upon Governor Hogan and the legislature to stop the foot-dragging and delay and act quickly to find the funds to rectify this long-festering injustice,” Del. Charles E. Sydnor III demanded during an earlier rally.

Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg also weighed in on the dispute.

“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,” said Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. “Left without remedy, injustice does not heal.”

The schools reportedly will use the $577 million settlement for scholarships and financial aid support services, and faculty recruitment and development.

“We are growing, but we need the additional support to build out new academic programs to open up our doors wider for the students who want to attend Bowie State University, and so for each one of our HBCUs, it means a great deal for the students for their families and our communities as well as the workforce,” said Bowie State President Aminta Breaux, noting that the funding would allow the colleges to remain competitive.

Morgan State University President David Wilson concurred, calling the day “historic.”

“After 15 yrs. of litigation, settlement is finally reached,” Wilson tweeted afterward. “With the $20 million or so coming to Morgan, we will mount a few degree programs to be in alignment with the human work of the future.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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