HBCUs Sue Maryland for Perpetuating Segregation

The four colleges are calling on the state to pay for improvements at their schools.

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Bowie State is one of the lawsuit plaintiffs. (Bowie State University)

In a case that is being closely watched by the legal and education spheres, four historically black colleges in Maryland are suing that state on the basis that continued underfunding of their institutions perpetuates segregation.

Alumni and students from Maryland's four historically black universities took their long-held view that the state perpetuates racial segregation to court Tuesday, arguing that their institutions are underfunded.

The federal lawsuit calls on the state to pay for improvements at the four schools -- Morgan State, Coppin State, Bowie State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore -- that would make them more competitive with traditionally white peers. It also calls for the dismantling of programs at traditionally white schools that "unnecessarily" duplicate programs at the historically black universities.

The case has drawn national attention from legal scholars and advocates for historically black institutions, who are intrigued by its implications for federal enforcement of laws aimed at ensuring equality in higher education. For Maryland, it revives decades-old questions of whether the state has done enough to support and protect its historically black institutions.

"Maryland has not eradicated the vestiges of segregation," Michael D. Jones, a Washington attorney who represents the plaintiffs, a coalition of students and alumni from the state's historically black universities, said during opening statements Tuesday.

Source: the Baltimore Sun.

The plaintiffs' attorney said that their case will also take aim at the practice of "program duplication," in which a traditionally white college opens up a program that directly competes with a popular program at an HBCU. Reports the Baltimore Sun:

He said his case will also target Maryland's decisions on program duplication, a longtime source of friction between historically black institutions and their traditionally white peers. The argument is that historically black schools can never gain equal footing if their most popular and distinctive programs are replicated elsewhere.

The state of Maryland is arguing that HBCUs have done well in recent state budgets and that minority students have far more opportunities at all of Maryland's public universities than they did in the past.

It might sound counterintuitive to some to argue for more funding to colleges that nurtured black students during the days of segregation in order to eradicate segregation, but anything that furthers the goal of achieving education parity for black students is worth pursuing.

That being said, we should also ask what HBCU alumni, and others who support these schools' goals, can do to increase their funding. Organizations like the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund stand ready to accept donations from individuals who wish to support private and public HBCUs.

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Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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