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Mediation urged in Maryland black colleges lawsuit

ANNAPOLIS — Attorneys representing historically black colleges said Tuesday they hope Maryland will embrace mediation to create high-demand academic programs at the schools, now that a federal judge has ruled the state is violating desegregation law by perpetuating the duplication of programs at predominantly white colleges.

The 60-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake found that the state’s policy is setting back efforts to attract students of all races to historically black colleges. It comes after years of debate in Maryland, where all four of the state’s historically black colleges are a short distance away from at least one traditionally white college.

Efforts in the Legislature to address competing MBA programs at Morgan State University, which is a traditionally black school in Baltimore, and nearby Towson University, a traditionally white school, have failed to pass, because opponents argued that the legislation would have enabled one state university to sue another, a change critics said would create a bad precedent.

A coalition of plaintiffs sued in 2006, and a trial took place in federal court last year.

“It’s been a long fight with the state of Maryland in this case, and now that we have the ruling we hope that they’re willing to sit down at the table and come up with some effective ways to remedy the constitutional violation,” said Jon, Greenbaum, the chief counsel of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The committee was a leading plaintiff in the case.

Samantha Kappalman, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley, said the judge’s ruling noted that funding for capital and operating budgets for historically black colleges has been fair.

“In addition, we are proud of the multitude of excellent academic programs that exist throughout the state, and we respectfully disagree with the court’s conclusions regarding duplication,” Kappalman said.

She said the state is reviewing the ruling and considering all options, including mediation.

The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland cheered the ruling.

“The Legislative Black Caucus encourages the governor and the administration to move swiftly, with an eye towards justice and fairness in the mediation phase of this litigation,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy, a Prince George’s County Democrat who is the caucus chair.

Blake noted in her ruling Monday that during the 1960s and 1970s Maryland’s historically black colleges began offering unique, high-demand programs and attracted significant numbers of white graduates, but the trend did not continue.

“Rather than building on that progress, however, Maryland made very large investments in (traditionally white institutions), particularly newly created Towson and (University of Maryland Baltimore County), that undermined preliminary gains in desegregation,” the judge wrote. “These investments included further duplication of programs at already existing TWIs and creating new public institutions in geographic proximity to existing HBIs.”

The judge cited a study that found Maryland’s HBIs have only 11 unique high-demand programs, while the traditionally white institutions have 122. The judge also noted that between 2001 and 2009, 18 new programs at traditionally white institutions unnecessarily duplicated programs at HBIs, 13 of which were high-demand. As a result, the judge wrote, the state never dismantled duplicated programs that facilitated segregation — and has even maintained policies and practices that have made the problem worse.

“The state offered no evidence that it has made any serious effort to address continuing historic duplication,” Blake wrote. “Second, and even more troubling, the state has failed to prevent additional unnecessary duplication, to the detriment of the HBIs.”

The judge specifically cites the joint University of Baltimore and Towson MBA program, which was developed in 2005 over Morgan State’s objection, as an example of the state failing to address the program duplication problem.

Blake also wrote that collaboration between traditionally white schools and traditionally black colleges can address the problem. For example, she noted that the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a traditionally black college, and Salisbury University, a traditionally white one, have telling demographics. As of 2009, UMES had a student population that was 77.6 percent black and 13.3 percent white. That, she wrote, makes it significantly more desegregated than its three HBI counterparts, which had white populations between roughly 1 and 4 percent.

Blake noted a study that found only 9 percent of the programs at UMES were unnecessarily duplicated.

“This lack of duplication is not an accident; it is the result of a strong collaborative partnership between UMES and Salisbury and it demonstrates that unnecessary duplication can be eliminated,” Blake wrote.