Desegregation Trial Kicking Off Monday in Maryland

BALTIMORE (CN) — Over a decade in the works, a federal trial kicking off Monday will determine what steps Maryland must take to dismantle systemic segregation in higher education.

The remediation trial, slated to run for six weeks, comes about four years after U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake found that the state’s traditionally white colleges and universities boasted unconstitutionally duplicative programs.

Earl Richardson, president emeritus of Morgan State University, noted in an interview that the fight for educational equality in Maryland remains underway as the state ignores the recommendations of several blue-ribbon commissions calling for elimination of the dual system of education.

Along with Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University is an HBCU, short for historically black institution, represented by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education.

“The state made many, many commitments to develop [HBCUs] into viable centers of excellence but never did,” said Richardson. “So that’s what we’re striving for, achieving an integrated and complementary system of higher education.”

“So that’s what we’re striving for, achieving an integrated and complementary system of higher education,” Richardson added.

Back in 2006 the coalition went to court with claims that the state had failed to live up to a five-year settlement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

After Blake ruled on the case in 2013, the coalition recommended that the court shift a number of popular academic programs from historically white to historically black colleges. It also proposed a merger of the University of Baltimore and Morgan State, and advocated for approval of new programs not currently on the books at HBCUs.

Maryland countered with a proposal to set up collaborative academic programs as well as a state fund to support them. The Maryland Higher Education Commission has not returned a request for comment.

Kristen Clarke, an attorney for the coalition, said in an email that there are recent signs of the state’s preferential treatment of traditionally white institutions.

Last year, for example, the Maryland Legislature approved a working agreement between the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Maryland in Baltimore for which the state has pledged tens of millions of dollars. The same legislation also increased the base level of funding for Towson State University and University of Maryland Baltimore County.

“This case is about bringing long overdue racial equity to students enrolled at HBCUs, and for the prospective students not yet enrolled in those schools who are seeking access to equal educational opportunity,” said Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Michael Jones, co-lead counsel for the coalition, meanwhile highlighted why the road to desegregation has been so lengthy.

“What the state used that two-year period to do was essentially delay coming up with a good-faith remedial plan along the lines that the judge had prescribed,” Jones, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, said in a telephone interview.

To address the ongoing segregation, the coalition has proposed creating “programmatic niches” at HBCUs, calling for an overhaul of the process by which the state’s higher education authority develops and approves new programs.

In the 2013 ruling, Blake did rejected two of the coalition’s principle arguments: that HBCUs are underfunded and that they are overly constrained in their institutional missions.

The remediation trial is expected to last from four to six weeks. Any changes ordered could take years to implement, Clarke said.