By Leland Ware, Louis L. Redding Professor of Law & Public Policy, University of Delaware. This case is discussed in more detail in professor Ware’s book, A Century of Segregation: Race, Class, and Disadvantage.
The Maryland Senate gave bipartisan support to the landmark settlement in Coalition for Equity & Excellence in Maryland Higher Education v. Maryland Higher Education Commission. Four historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Maryland can expect to increase their budgets by a total of $577 million dollars.
In the late 19th century Maryland established a dual, racially segregated system of public education. The “colored” institutions were Morgan, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Coppin and Bowie. Under a series of Supreme Court decisions including U.S. v. Fordice, the adoption of race-neutral admission policies is not enough to satisfy desegregation obligations. States that maintained racially segregated colleges and universities have a legal duty to eliminate all vestiges of the segregated system.
In 1975, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) informed Maryland that it was seeking the termination of federal funding based on its failure to eliminate the vestiges of segregation in its colleges and universities. In 2000, Maryland and OCR entered into a settlement agreement which set forth commitments that the State made that would result in full compliance under federal laws.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Maryland’s HBCUs began offering unique, high-demand programs to attract significant numbers of white students. Rather than building on that progress, however, Maryland made large investments in two traditionally white institutions (TWI) that undermined the desegregation progress. These investments included the duplication of programs at HBCUs. Responding to the proposal, an assistant Attorney General warned:
Please be advised that the Secretary’s decision [to approve an MBA program at an HWI], while within his discretion to act, was made contrary to advice and counsel rendered to him by the Office of the Attorney General. . . There is little question that the proposed MBA program, if approved, would constitute “unnecessary program duplication” as that term of art is defined and articulated in federal law.
The State ignored this advice. In 2006, a nonprofit group, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, filed a lawsuit alleging the state deliberately duplicated innovative educational programs created at black universities, luring would-be students to their white counterparts. After a trial, the Court found that Maryland’s HBIs were still racially identifiable institutions. White students made up only 5% of the population of Maryland’s HBCUs in the fall 2009. Black students were 91% of the populations at those schools.
A federal court held in 2013 that the state had not eliminated vestiges of its segregated educational system. The Court concluded that in view of the number of regionally proximate institutions in Maryland, the expert analysis of program duplications throughout Maryland, and the recognition of several State officials of the historic problem of program duplication, the Coalition proved that the unnecessary program duplication was traceable to policies and practices established during the de jure era and continued into the present. These conditions violated Maryland’s duty to eliminate the vestiges of de jure system that perpetuated racial segregation.
The Court ordered that parties to negotiate a settlement on the remedy. There were four failed mediations under two governors since 2013. The half billion-dollar agreement settles the question of damages. Funding would be distributed proportionally to enrollment at each of the four HBCU’s. The bill now goes to the desk of the Republican governor, Larry Hogan.