Legislation would force settlement of HBCU lawsuit
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones is hoping to force the state to settle a longrunning lawsuit that alleges it made decisions that harmed the viability of historically black colleges and universities.
A federal court has already ruled against the state in parts of the lawsuit, which four Maryland HBCUs filed in 2006. Both sides have participated in courtordered settlement discussions, but have not reached an agreement.
Jones, a Democrat, is sponsoring a bill in the House of Delegates that would require the governor to spend $580 million over the next 10 years at the four colleges to create academic programs, expand scholarships, recruit faculty, provide more academic support and market the schools to potential students.
The spending proposed in Jones’ legislation is in line with a request for a $577 million settlement from a coalition representing Coppin State University and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.
The coalition believes past offers to be insufficient, saying it would take the higher amount to make substantial change. The money would enable the four HBCUs to develop unique, indemand academic programs and to hire quality faculty members to run those programs.
Only then, lawyers argue, will these schools be able to fairly compete with traditionally white schools and attract students of all races.
Gov. Larry Hogan, meanwhile, has held firm that he will not increase the state’s “final offer” last fall of $200 million, an increase over an earlier $100 million offer.
“No one is more committed to resolving this issue than Governor Hogan, who has funded HBCUs at record levels and dramatically increased the state’s offer to settle this 13-year-long lawsuit,” Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the Republican governor, said in a statement.
One of the key issues of contention in the lawsuit is that the state allowed predominantly white institutions to have academic programs that duplicated those at the historically black colleges, perpetuating segregation among the state’s universities.
“The issue of program duplication has lingered for far too long and is a blemish on our state’s strong system of higher education,” Jones said.
Michael D. Jones, an attorney representing the universities, said he’s pleased lawmakers are trying to resolve the lawsuit.
“I think this is an excellent development. I applaud her leadership,” Jones said of the House speaker.
The attorney said the governor has been “shortsighted” not to settle the lawsuit and fund improvements at the colleges.
“I think the legislature is taking a longer view of this and recognizing that ultimately, it will be good for the state,” he said.
Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said his group supports the speaker’s legislation.
“We have the opportunity to set a precedent for other states to follow as we make history in the state of Maryland,” Barnes, a Prince George’s Democrat, said.