And now the state’s racist practices and policies have a shot clock, set to expire on April 30, 2019. If the two sides fail to reach a settlement agreement by that date, the court will rule and potentially awards billions to Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in the form of transferred programs, new funding and capital financing.
Judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit met last month in Richmond, Va. with officials from the state and members of the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, who sued the state nearly 13 years ago. In an order issued yesterday, they warned both sides that failure to reach a resolution would yield for the state and the schools “endless years of acrimonious, divisive and expensive litigation that will only work to the detriment of higher education in Maryland.”
Now the court-appointed mediator has been ordered to make reports to the court every 30 days on the progress of mediation and will be required to resolve the historic lawsuit that many believe will replace United States v. Fordice as the nation’s signature judicial precedent for HBCU equity.
More than this, the decision forces legislative actors in Maryland to apply the necessary pressure to the University System of Maryland and its presidents, and the Maryland Higher Education Commission to prepare for what a new and bold future will look like for the state’s students. Now is the time for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and members of the state’s Black Legislative Caucus to publicly make this issue a top priority, and a bipartisan platform for improving higher education to benefit all Maryland students of all races and backgrounds.
Some lawmakers are already taking notice of the changes.
Regardless of the dollar amount that the State and the Coalition agree upon, several elements must be a part of the final equation. What will the state do to quickly and efficiently create parity between the predominantly white institutions and the HBCUs, which have unevenly offered 200 unique and high-demand programs at the PWIs while HBCUs collectively have offered less than a dozen over decades?
How will the state redistribute the scholarship dollars used to lure black and other minority students to Maryland PWIs in support of HBCUs? How will the state deploy its new free community college initiative to support stronger pathways to HBCUs, instead of using the program to steal enrollment from the back colleges?
Most importantly, what guarantees will the state make to prohibit interference with the inevitable growth of HBCUs through presidential and board appointments and turnover? In the last five years, three of Maryland’s HBCUs presidencies have changed hands, while its largest HBCU in Morgan State has approved an extension for president David Wilson, who attempted to undermine the lawsuit with joint program proposals with a PWI at the center of the lawsuit.
Time and risk-taking attempts have run out for the State of Maryland. It is time to settle this and to make Maryland a global example of how equitable higher education makes everyone better and the state more competitive.