Bowie State University
In 2006, a coalition of HBCU students, alumni and other HBCU supporters filed a lawsuit in the Maryland Federal District Court against the State of Maryland alleging that the State had failed to make HBCUs comparable and competitive with their white counterparts. Specifically, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education maintained that the State was in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act 1964 and the Fordice decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in duplicating the academic programs of Historically Black Institutions at nearby predominantly White campuses; limiting HBI missions; failing to provide appropriate facilities and underfunding the overall development of the four Historically Black Institutions.
After a failed attempt at mediation of the issues, the case went to trial in January 2012. In October 2013, Judge Catherine Blake ruled that in maintaining the practice of unnecessary program duplication between HBIs and Traditionally White Universities, Maryland continues to operate a dual and segregated system of higher education, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and to the harm of the HBIs and their students.
The judge asserted that the violation must be remedied and suggested that the Coalition and the state attempt to resolve it through mediation. Unfortunately, the post-trial mediation-- like the pretrial mediation-- was not successful, so the Court convened again in February 2017 to hear arguments on appropriation remedies for transforming Maryland’s dual system of higher education into a unitary or single system of colleges and universities.
In November 2017, the judge issued an order providing for the establishment of new unique and high demand programs at each of the HBIs to form niches or specialty areas that would give the HBIs identities beyond their racial history. The judge’s order also provided for the appointment of a special master to work with the HBIs, Coalition experts and others in determining what the niches should be, any facilities that would be needed, and how much the enhancement effort would cost. Included among the duties of the special master is the responsibility to monitor the implementation of the court’s remedial plan to ensure that it proceeds in accordance with a schedule to be approved by the court. The judge stipulated further that funding be provided for student financial aid, marketing and recruitment and the State was to abandon the practice of unnecessary program duplication which had led to the massive disparity in academic programs between Traditionally White Institutions and the HBCUs.
Notwithstanding decades of petitions from the HBIs; the recommendations of several state commissions and outside consultants; the Fordice ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and the November 2017 Federal District Court ruling against Maryland specifically, Maryland failures to accept responsibility for the harm it continues to do to HBIs and their students. State lawmakers seem to believe that the future of higher education in the State depends primarily on development of traditionally White campuses at the expense of its HBIs.
In January 2018, Attorney General Brian Frosh appealed the judge’s decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Subsequently, attorneys for the Coalition appealed the judge’s positions on HBI missions, facilities and funding. Meanwhile the Governor has since sent a letter to the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus offering $100 million over ten years to settle the lawsuit. The irony is that attorneys for the State estimate the cost of the Coalition’s plan to fix the problem is between $1-2 billion and, for the Coalition to accept $100 million to settle as much as a $2 billion problem would be a downright betrayal of our students, faculty, alumni and others who have historically suffered the injustices of the State’s neglect.
In December 2018, the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Attorney General Brian Frosh's appeal of the lower court's decision and in favor of the four HBCUs. After two hours of oral arguments before a three-judge panel, Federal Judges Steven Agee, Stephanie Thacker and J. Harvie Wilkinson, wasted no time issuing an order January 2, for the parties to come to an agreement by April 30, 2019. “The Court is of the firm conviction that this case can and should be settled,” the court order stated. “Otherwise, the parties will likely condemn themselves to endless years of acrimonious and divisive litigation that will only work to the detriment higher education in Maryland.”
This case has been going on for more than 13 years but the injustice to the HBIs and their students has endured since public education in the State began and the State needs to adhere to the federal court's orders.
We are calling upon the Governor, the Attorney General, and the leadership of the Maryland General Assembly to begin immediately to implement Judge Blake’s order!
The Backstory – What Led to the HBCU Equity Lawsuit Being Filed?
In 1974, the state of Maryland devised a plan to achieve Black-White equity in higher education. Two years later, the U.S. Department of Education‘s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) informed the State of Maryland that the plan was not being appropriately implemented and threatened to block Maryland’s share of federal funds to achieve enforcement.
The State filed a lawsuit against OCR preventing them from withholding federal funds. Negotiations between the State and OCR continued and in 1980, the state submitted a second desegregation plan. OCR found this plan insufficient as well.
In 1985, after continued negotiations, Maryland and OCR agreed on a third desegregation plan. The Coalition asserts that the 1985 agreement has never been sufficiently enacted, leaving the state’s HBCUs underfunded, while the state uses its policy-making capability to advance predominantly White institutions (PWIs.)
2000 Partnership Agreement: Maryland signs a partnership agreement with the OCR (federal government) agreeing to make its four Historically Black Institutions comparable and competitive to the Traditionally White Institutions in all respects; to avoid unnecessary program duplication between Historically Black Institutions and Traditionally White universities; and to conduct a study of the status and special needs of Coppin University.
HBCU Equity Lawsuit
The Coalition files the Equity Lawsuit. The case was originally filed in a Maryland state court before it was re-filed in the Federal District Court. The HBCU equity lawsuit asserts that the State of Maryland violated HBCU students’ rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14thAmendment – i.e. Maryland continues to operate a system of higher education that discriminates against HBCU students.
HBCU Equity Lawsuit Liability Trial
Liability trial held January to February in the U.S. District Court of Maryland. Judge Catherine E. Blake presiding.
Court Rules in Favor of Coalition for Equity and Excellence
Judge Catherine E. Blake rules in favor of the HBCU plaintiffs, determining that Maryland continues to operate a de jure system of discrimination against HBCUs. “Students who enter Maryland’s historically Black institutions – whether Black, White, or of other races – do not have an equal educational opportunity as those students who attend the state’s traditionally White institutions,” she wrote in her opinion.
Mediation Ordered by The Court
Judge Blake orders the parties – HBCU plaintiffs and State of Maryland to develop a remedy for the discriminatory pattern of academic program duplication that put HBCUs at a disadvantage. Plaintiffs submit remedial plan. State of Maryland fails to submit a comprehensive plan to address program duplication.
Mediation Fails – Blake Sets Court Date for Remedial Trial
In December 2016 Judge Catherine E. Blake orders the Coalition and State to return to court for trial in 2017 after mediation fails.
HBCU Equity Remedial Trial
Witnesses for the remedial portion of the HBCU Lawsuit conclude testimony in February 2017. The court will set a post-trial briefing schedule of 90 days after which the Court will reconvene parties for closing arguments in the courtroom. (May-early June 2017)
1st Failed Legislative Action Linked To HBCU Equity Trial
The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus introduces SB 712 which guarantees equity in funding for Maryland’s HBCUs. Hearing scheduled in Annapolis, March 7. General Assembly adjourns without passing any bills to help HBCUs.
Attorney General Brian Frosh Files Appeal To Dismiss HBCU Lawsuit
On December 7, 2017, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, and the private law firm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP hired by his office and paid for by Maryland taxpayers, filed an appeal to dismiss the lawsuit in favor of defendants. Thei appeal argues that their evidence discredits claims of liability for not erasing "a policy of unnecessary program duplication traceable to the pre-Brown era of de jure segregation in Maryland’s system of public higher education." If successful, Frosh's appeal would end the lawsuit and the state would not be required to address the concerns of the HBCU coalition.
Governor Larry Hogan Offers $100 Million To Settle Lawsuit
On February 10, 2018, Governor Larry Hogan sent a letter to the Maryland Black Caucus offering $100 Million to settle the lawsuit. Michael Jones, an attorney for the HBCUs, said the offer represents a “step toward a meaningful remedy.” “But it is not the end of the journey,” he said. Jones said he believes a proper remedy must start with identifying the new programs that will be developed at each HBCU and then later attaching a price tag.
2nd Failed Legislative Action Linked To HBCU Equity Trial
In spite of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus listing passing HBCU legislation as their #1 priority and introducing four separate bills, the General Assembly again adjourns on April 9 without passing any bills to help HBCUs.
Withdraw The Appeal Rally
On Friday, May 18, 2018, activists held a protest rally outside the offices of Maryland Attorney General's office to demand withdrawal of the appeal and begin negotiations to enact Judge Blake's decision.
The State of Maryland appeals Judge Blake's ruling.
Sharon Y. Blake, Spokesperson
Maryland HBCU Advocates
Brandon Cooper, Deanna Ikhinmwin, Cheryl McCleod, Kayla Moore,
Le Shaun Quander-Mosley, Chinedu Nwokeafor, T. Michael Peay, Jean Richie, Zattura Sims-El, Dr. Alvin Thornton, Fedelis Tucker