A few weeks ago, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore held graduation exercises for its physical therapy program, with 29 new doctoral students entering a vibrant workforce with growth potential in the region and throughout the state. Racially, the graduating class breaks down to 23 white, five African-American and one Asian-American new alumni with terminal credentials in the field, a trend that has held at UMES since the early 1980s with the program was first approved as one of only two physical therapy doctoral programs in Maryland.
UMES named a United Methodist historic site Thursday, September 14, 2017 Two sisters from Baltimore County were among 29 students who received Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees today at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s 2017 summer commencement.
This matters beyond notions of HBCUs being diverse campuses with competitive programs ready to meet workforce demands – it speaks to the core of what plaintiffs in the state’s landmark HBCU desegregation case have been arguing throughout more than 11 years of mediation and litigation.
The State of Maryland has been found guilty of being one of America’s most prolific violators of constitutional law through maintaining a dual system of education for black and white students. By duplicating programs between historically black and predominantly white institutions, and building up schools like the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Baltimore, US Federal Judge Catherine Blake has ruled that Maryland has specifically driven enrollment away from its four public HBCUs and prevented them from growing in research and outreach.
Historically black universities in Maryland have long been victimized by the state’s efforts to maintain two systems of higher education separating black students from white students. It has been a painful part of our reality of learning, teaching and graduating from HBCUs in the state for generations, but that pain is now a part of the federal legal record, thanks to an October 2013 federal court ruling by Judge Catherine Blake.
She is expected to rule on a remedy for the HBCUs in the coming weeks, with some experts predicting a shift in programs and resources which could cost the state government billions.
UMES’ physical therapy is one of the handful of exceptions among programs that are nearly exclusive at HBCUs, which results in a more diverse student body and higher exposure among donors, corporations and state lawmakers for budget support.
But pro-state experts and state officials have argued, even after a courtroom defeat, that making programs unique to HBCUs will do nothing to convince white students to attend.
They’ve planted actions within HBCUs. In 2015, Morgan State University regents scrapped plans from President David Wilson to create partnerships with Towson University which many observers believe would’ve opened the door to additional program duplication.
Last May, Morgan State University President David Wilson faced internal and public scrutiny over his plans to develop shared programs with Towson University , less than seven months after federal court judge Catherine Blake ruled that merger and transfer were necessary elements in dismantling the state’s ‘separate and unequal’ system of higher ed.
Similar efforts have been launched at Coppin State University, in conjunction with schools long-positioned to absorb the HBCU in the name of enhanced savings for taxpayers and revitalization of the western part of Baltimore City.
Coppin State University earlier this month announced a new initiative to give graduates of a nearby community college admission pathways and free tuition at the four-year HBCU. To most, the program appears an obviously overdue partnership which can benefit Baltimore City’s marginalized communities in great ways.
And a startling majority of black legislators in Maryland have remained silent on the lawsuit and its implications for community development and opportunities for black students.
On the heels of a scathing rebuke from members of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus over Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s plans to build a municipal jail in Baltimore City with funds reserved for higher ed capital projects, Hogan has withdrawn his $480 million proposal and now supports new learning facilities at six state universities, including new buildings at Morgan State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
But with all of these challenges, Coppin State, Morgan State, Bowie State and UMES continue to show that exclusivity in programs can build the kind of diversity that most racists and or anti-HBCU activists believe is only possible at PWIs. Beyond Maryland, it is the kind of example necessary for states like Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, North and South Carolina to use in legislative lobbying, and for alumni and students to consider in potential litigation against the states for duplicating programs and disparately cutting resources from public HBCUs.
This is why HBCUs are aggressively pursuing white students – not just to make up for the black students who refuse to enroll at black colleges, but to demonstrate that diversity and competitiveness are not exclusive to PWIs. The more diverse that HBCU campuses can become with white and international students of color, the more resources they can demand to meet the needs of diversity; including scholarships, programs, technology, housing, and personnel.
Many students and alumni have a problem with this reality. But until more black students realize or are convinced of HBCU value, we need to get over a strategy that PWIs have used for years to monopolize black student enrollment while HBCUs, institutionally, have suffered.
Between 1986 and 1993, total enrollment at historically black colleges and universities increased from 223,275 students to 282,856 – the largest seven-year stretch of enrollment increase for HBCUs as recorded by the National Center for Education Statistics.
After all – black students at PWIs are starting to realize the impact of the inequity, but we still need their money to make the biggest difference.
The last thing any state government wants is a productive HBCU forcing its hand in cutting checks and celebrating success. UMES is forcing that hand, and it could force a change in history with Maryland’s racist, illegal record of segregation against its black colleges.