Leg­is­la­tion would force set­tle­ment of HBCU law­suit

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Pamela Wood

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.

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