A decade-long lawsuit addressing continued segregation within the University System of Maryland returned to federal court in Baltimore on Monday.
Attorneys for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are making the case that traditionally white institutions such as Towson University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have encouraged segregation by offering almost identical programs as the system’s four historically black institutions: Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.
The revived lawsuit asks for about 100 programs to be transferred to or started at these historically black colleges, the Baltimore Sun reported. Proposals include transferring a program in homeland security from Towson to Coppin State and moving a computer engineering program from UMBC to Morgan State.
Presidents from Bowie, Coppin State, Morgan State, the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, Towson, UMBC, the University of Baltimore and others are expected to be in attendance in court, according to documents obtained by the Sun.
The practice of creating similar programs at traditionally white institutions is “wasteful and it’s contrary to best practices in higher ed,” Michael Jones of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a lead attorney for the lawyers’ committee, told the Sun. “It’s a continuation of this whole notion that somehow the historically black schools aren’t good enough for non-black students.”
Historical data backs up Jones’ belief. While these predominantly black institutions had a white undergraduate enrollment of about 18 percent in 1976, this figure had plummeted to an average of 5 percent as of 2009, according to the Sun.
Despite these disparities, the Sun reported that the Maryland Higher Education Commission has expressed concerns that the transferral of programs at various system schools could negatively impact students of all races at larger state universities.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake called for this lawsuit’s return after court-ordered mediation to remedy the situation failed in both 2011 and 2014, the Sun reported. The suit was initially filed in 2006 after the Maryland Higher Education Commission approved a joint MBA program between Towson and UB in 2005 — a move Morgan State officials claimed would draw students away from its own program.
Concerns regarding diversity at system institutions extends to the University of Maryland as well. While about 30 percent of state residents are black, only about 13 percent of undergraduate students and about 4.6 percent of faculty at this university are black, The Diamondback reported in September 2015.
Black undergraduate enrollment at this university remained fairly stagnant between fall 2011 and fall 2016 at about 12.1 percent and 12.9 percent, respectively, according to this university’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment.
However, this university has spearheaded initiatives such as the Strategic Plan for Diversity in 2010 to fulfill its “aspiration and our determination to become a model diverse community of learning, exploration, and self-examination,” according to the plan. It surpassed one of its goals — to have at least 38 percent of enrolled students be students from underrepresented groups — in 2014.
The system’s Board of Regents also voted to rename this university’s football complex from Byrd Stadium to Maryland Stadium on Dec. 11, 2015 following upset that the stadium’s namesake honored a past university president — Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd — who barred black students from attending until 1951.
University President Wallace Loh told the crowd gathered in Stamp Student Union that day that the decision sent an important message.
“Going forward, we are a university committed to diversity, inclusion and the success of our students,” he said.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story said the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s president would be in attendance in court. The president of the University of Baltimore will be in attendance. This article has been updated.