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HBCU supporters vow to continue fight for higher lawsuit settlement

Tim Curtis//November 13, 2019

HBCU supporters vow to continue fight for higher lawsuit settlement

By Tim Curtis

//November 13, 2019

Del. Darryl Barnes speaks Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)
Del. Darryl Barnes speaks Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Supporters of Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities have been fighting for more than a decade and are not going away now, they told the governor and lawmakers at a rally outside the state government complex Wednesday.

Black lawmakers, HBCU alumni, activists and other supporters rallied in favor of a proposed half-billion-dollar settlement in a 13-year-old federal lawsuit over disparities between Maryland’s historically black colleges and its traditionally white universities.

The supporters favor a settlement of $577 million, while Gov. Larry Hogan has offered to settle the case for $200 million over 10 years.

“We are committed to continuing this fight for equity and justice that was started by another Maryland hero, Thurgood Marshall, when he sued the state decades ago,” said Mike Jones, the lawyer representing the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education, the group that brought the lawsuit.

He told the hundreds of gathered supporters that, like the civil rights movement, the fight for the funding must include litigation, legislation and street agitation. Jones was one of several speakers to encourage attendees to call, and continue to call, their lawmakers in support of the higher settlement.

Litigation over disparities between traditionally white institutions and the black colleges dates to 2006. The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education accused the state higher education commission of segregation by allowing traditionally white schools to duplicate programs that had been unique to the historically black colleges.

The state’s four HBCUs are Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.

The state said that its colleges had fully integrated and objected to proposed remedies that would spread programming among schools.

The parties were repeatedly referred to mediation by the trial court but could never reach an agreement.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake ruled in 2013 that unnecessary duplication of programs by traditionally white institutions was a policy in Maryland. She held a separate trial on damages in 2017 after the parties failed to reach a settlement.

She ruled that a special master be appointed to oversee the creation of a remedial plan to address past unequal treatment of HBCUs.

Mediation ordered this year by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also failed and the case has returned to the 4th Circuit.

The governor’s office said it has taken the issue more seriously than previous administrations.

“After failing to resolve this matter for eight years, the O’Malley administration’s final offer was $40 million,” Shareese Churchill, Hogan’s press secretary, said in a statement. “The Hogan-Rutherford administration has dramatically increased the state’s offer to $200 million — a 500 percent increase. In addition, we have provided historically high funding for Maryland’s HBCUs, and HBCUs are now better funded than other state schools. Governor Hogan has shown real leadership on this issue where others have repeatedly failed over the years.”

But HBCU supporters believe $200 million would be a significant discount from what they are owed under the court’s rulings. Speakers consistently said Wednesday that taking less than what they were owed would be a disservice to the black colleges.

Hogan, who previously offered $100 million before upping his offer this year, wrote a letter to House Speaker Adrienne Jones saying that the legislature could consider passing the settlement on its own. Jones supports the $577 million proposal.

“I understand that the plaintiffs sought the intervention of the legislature in this legal matter,” Hogan wrote last month. “As we approach the upcoming budget process, it is certainly within the purview of you and your colleagues to attempt to find ways to fund a settlement at the levels you are seeking.”

Jones, the first African American speaker in Maryland history, was a member of the House Appropriations Committee before becoming speaker. Saying “I know what I’m talking about,” Jones asserted Wednesday that Maryland could find the money to settle the lawsuit.

Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, reminded the crowd that the state’s black caucus is strong.

The caucus is the largest black caucus in the country, with 47 members of the House of Delegates and 12 members of the Senate.

“We will not accept this red line of settling this HBCU lawsuit for $200 million,” Barnes said.”We are the largest black caucus in the union. … It takes 71 votes to get a bill passed, so we control our own narrative.”

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