The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board today suggests that a recent decision from Federal Judge Catherine C. Blake in a landmark lawsuit filed by HBCU advocates against the State of Maryland is a way forward in preserving interest for Maryland’s students. It suggests that stopping HBCU program duplication, but allowing public predominantly white institutions to avoid dramatic suffering in program transfer and lost resources, is the best compromise for students of all races, and the system’s higher education economic profile.
This is not a matter of the prestige of individual schools or academic programs but how to create a system that ensures students have the best possible options available to them when planning their post-secondary careers.
If that prompts HBCUs in Maryland and elsewhere to re-evaluate their mission in light of changing economic requirements, circumstances and changing student enrollment patterns, that’s all to the good.
Once again, the State of Maryland by way of the Sun’s editorial voice, wants Marylanders to see past the fact that it willfully broke the law and operated a system of racist, separatist higher education well into the mid-2000s, rivaling southern systems established in the throes of Jim Crow.
Marylanders, and everyone looking in on this case must ask the real questions that pry at our sociopolitical value systems. Why is it that the state can pay for and argue in favor of three schools in a 15-mile geographic radius (University of Maryland – Baltimore County, University of Baltimore) to do the job that one Morgan State University could have done with equitable support?
Why is the concept of a historically black school being among Maryland’s largest and academically diverse so culturally offensive – particularly in a liberal leaning state that leads the nation in positive economic and educational outcomes for its citizens – specifically African Americans?
Why is an HBCU attracting all kinds of students deemed unproductive for a state’s strategic growth, but a proximate white school is a necessary asset for the same?
Race is the answer, but we commonly regard it in terms of individual students instead of institutions. Maryland has no problem with black students or black people who generate economic and industrial impact in strategic areas. But if minority-serving institutions rise, it disrupts the state’s strategic plan for serving the political and economic interests of white people with money and power.
Universities decide elections through large voting blocks of students. They drive commerce and residential growth with students and faculty spending money for goods, services and entertainment. They define research platforms, power civic engagement through athletics, and community improvement through volunteerism.
One HBCU can dramatically alter government ideology, where jobs and public services are created, and the industrial imperative for a city, county or region. Maryland has four. And now the state has been caught in its efforts to slow the development of black influence over these issues in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and the Eastern Shore; the latter two among the fastest growing areas in the state, while Baltimore City is among Maryland’s most vulnerable areas in population loss but soon to explode with industrial invasion.
So the State, the Baltimore Sun and supporters can continue to define the issue as one of educational access and workforce development. They can continue to say that making HBCUs whole from years of illegal segregation is a notion of social chaos, and that black students are better served with broader educational choice. But we all know better. Judge Blake knows better, and just because she won’t easily hand over to the state a clear path for HBCU equity to be defeated by a conservative Supreme Court, doesn’t mean a reckoning isn’t coming.
It only means that the reckoning, much like Maryland’s rising minority population, will catch up with rich white guys another day.