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Bill would ensure Morgan State stays out of USM

Although a public institution, Morgan State University in Baltimore isn’t a part of the University System of Maryland and has its own governing board.

Lawmakers from the city want to make sure it stays that way, despite a proposal — arising from an ongoing civil suit — for the institution to absorb the University of Baltimore.

Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Democrat, is sponsoring a bill in Annapolis that would prohibit the historically black Morgan State from being included in the university system.

Conway said in an interview that there’s not an active plan to merge the two institutions; but that if the federal judge presiding over the case should rule in favor of the proposal – put forward by a group supporting the state’s historically black institutions, or HBIs – Morgan should maintain its independence.

Conway doesn’t feel Morgan would benefit from joining the USM. “It’s just a precaution,” she said. “If the merger actually happens we want to make sure it [Morgan] remains independent.”

A group supporting Maryland’s four historically black institutions – Morgan State, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore – brought the suit against the state nearly a decade ago, arguing that the state hadn’t desegregated its higher education system because programs at historically black institutions were being duplicated at traditionally white institutions.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake found in October 2013 that some of the plaintiffs’ complaints were justified and suggested each party offer proposals for remediation.

The plaintiffs’ proposals included merging the University of Baltimore into Morgan State in order to help “establish unique programmatic niches” for the state’s Maryland’s HBIs.

“Combining Morgan with UB will establish Morgan as a comprehensive urban university with a distinctive identity,” the plaintiffs wrote. “Morgan currently offers few high-demand undergraduate and graduate programs that are often offered at many urban universities, and few non-core programs that are not duplicated at one or more of the [traditionally white institutions] in the Baltimore area.”

Other suggestions included creating more joint, collaborative programs between universities and adding unique, high-demand programs at the HBIs.

The state’s counter-proposal called for the creating early-college summer programs and putting $10 million toward more joint programs between institutions; that plan drew fire from Maryland HBI leaders in the Baltimore Sun.

Morgan State President David Wilson told The Daily Record that given Blake’s ruling, the proposal put forward by the plaintiffs — including the merger — aligns more closely with his university’s interests than the state proposal does.

“The city of Baltimore could benefit from a more comprehensive and expansive public research university,” he said. “This [proposal] would create that entity for the city.”

Wilson also said in a statement that he supported Conway’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Baltimore Sens. Nathaniel McFadden and Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, both Democrats, because remaining outside of the system would allow Morgan “the flexibility it needs and to be nimble enough to react quickly to opportunities and new trends in higher education.”