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Federal judge weighing future of Sojourner-Douglass College

A federal judge is considering whether to grant Sojourner-Douglass College’s request to reinstate its accreditation, which was withdrawn June 30.

Sojourner-Douglass filed both a motion for a temporary restraining order and a lawsuit against the Middle States Commission on Higher Education on June 29. U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander denied the motion but allowed the college to file a motion for preliminary injunction. Hollander heard arguments on that motion Tuesday in Baltimore, and a second day of arguments is scheduled for Friday.

The accreditation commission announced in November that Sojourner-Douglass would be losing its accreditation due to financial difficulties. Without accreditation, the East Baltimore college cannot receive federal funds; at least 80 percent of the college’s tuition revenue comes from federal grants and loans, according to court filings.

“[T]he resulting financial distress will force S-DC to close immediately,” the college stated in court filings.

The college’s closing would affect approximately 300 students enrolled for the fall semester and cause 125 employees to lose their jobs, according to court filings.

Sojourner-Douglass alleged in its lawsuit that it was subjected to a double standard by the accreditation commission and denied “any reasonable flexibility” given to similarly situated, predominately-white universities to address documented problems.

“On key point after key point, MSCHE has set forth initial requirements for S-DC to meet, and once it has met the initial requirement, MSCHE rejected S-DC’s showing only by changing what originally was required,” the complaint states.

An independent panel in February upheld the accreditation commission’s decision after the college appealed.

The college, which was created in 1972 in Baltimore and had several satellite campuses in Maryland, had also experienced severe financial difficulties. It lost more than $5 million in 2012, according to the school’s most recently available tax statements.

The private, not-for-profit school had offered bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied arts and sciences.

Sojourner-Douglass is represented by John H. Morris Jr., a Baltimore solo practitioner, and Mitchell Y. Mirviss, a partner with Venable LLP in Baltimore.

The case is Sojourner-Douglass College v. Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, 1:15-cv-01926-ELH.