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Federal Court Orders Md. to Fix Its Lack of Investment in HBCUs

Holmes Hall, Morgan State University (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Holmes Hall, Morgan State University (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

This week a federal judge ruled in favor of Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities in a decadeslong legal battle over disparities in higher education in the state.

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As the Washington Post reports, Judge Catherine C. Blake ordered Maryland to address its historic lack of investment in the state’s HBCUs. In her injunction, Blake barred Maryland from “maintaining vestiges of the prior ... system of segregation in the form of unnecessary program duplication in the public higher education system.”

But Blake turned down a request from the plaintiffs (a coalition of alumni from Maryland’s HBCUs) for the state to pour more money into its black schools to compensate for decades of funding disparities, citing improvements in state appropriations.

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The court’s ruling does require Maryland to create “new, unique and high demand programs” at each of the state’s four HBCUs (Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore).

How does this ruling address Maryland’s historic underfunding of its black education institutions? As reporter Danielle Douglas-Gabriel writes, HBCU alumni say that their schools “are placed at a disadvantage when their most distinctive offerings are duplicated elsewhere.” The damage is compounded when those predominantly white institutions have more resources, like better funding and new facilities.

The coalition has been fighting Maryland in court since 2006, trying to remedy these disparities. In fact, as the Post article notes, when the court recommended mediation in 2013, it also found that 60 percent of Maryland HBCUs’ noncore programs were duplicated at the state’s traditionally white schools. Meanwhile, only 18 percent of the noncore programs at Maryland’s PWIs were copied elsewhere.

On Twitter, education writer Nikole Hannah-Jones pointed out that HBCUs “punch above their weight in educating black students” but are frequently underfunded.

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“HBCUs produce an inordinate amount of black STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] graduates, lawyers, doctors and those earning graduate degrees,” the New York Times journalist wrote.

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“As always, black institutions expected to do more with less. And they do,” Hannah-Jones continued. “But that doesn’t make it right. Which is why this case was actually a desegregation case.”

Read more at the Washington Post.

Staff writer, The Root.

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DISCUSSION

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Nina Lemone

Coppin State.

I only went to UMD because Morgan didn’t have the major I wanted. A part of me regrets that now. The state better make this right.