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Securing Justice for Maryland's Historically Black Colleges and Universities

The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education. Inc., v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et. al.
Case Summary

Prior to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, Maryland operated a de jure system of segregation in higher education between white and black students. This system forced black students to attend schools that were insufficiently funded, provided inferior facilities, and lacked the programmatic opportunities offered at the traditionally white schools in the system. Even after Brown prohibited segregation in education, Maryland failed to adequately remedy this disparity.

In 2000, Maryland entered into a Partnership Agreement with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to bring the state into compliance with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Maryland has failed to meet its commitments under the agreement. The state’s continuing failures to the HBCUs span the areas of funding, capital improvements, and unnecessary program duplication. An extensive record documents the state’s failed efforts to enhance its historically black colleges and universities in a manner that would allow them to become comparable and competitive with Maryland’s traditionally white institutions (TWIs).

In 2006, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education (The Coalition) is a coalition of graduates from Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore claimed that Maryland underfunded and undermined the academic programs at those schools. In 2009, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel Kirkland & Ellis LLP joined the team to represent the Coalition and individual students and faculty from these historically black colleges and universities.

The Coalition argued that Maryland HBCUs are placed at a disadvantage when their most distinctive offerings are duplicated, especially when the schools they compete with have more money and newer facilities. By letting other state colleges duplicate programs that once attracted a diverse student body to the historically black colleges and universities, the state impeded enrollment at the schools. For example, traditionally white public universities in Maryland have 122 academic programs not duplicated elsewhere in the state system, while historically black schools count only 11 such offerings. If the state would introduce more academic programs that are in high demand, the competitiveness and sustainability of the four schools would enhance.

A federal judge in 2017 ordered Maryland to end the disparity by establishing a set of unique programs at each school and providing additional funding for marketing and scholarships. The state appealed the decision and was ordered into mediation that ended in July 2019 without a resolution.

In order to force an end to this protracted legal battle, newly inaugurated Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates Adrienne A. Jones—the first African-American and the first woman to serve in that position in Maryland—introduced House Bill 1260 which would require the state of Maryland to spend $580 million over 10 years on the four colleges and universities, an amount similar to what the Coalition proposed in settlement, and nearly three times as much as the governor of Maryland offered to settle the lawsuit.

In a major step towards ending this 13-year-old lawsuit over inequitable funding of the schools, the Maryland General Assembly passed the legislation in a nearly unanimous vote in the House of Delegates and Senate. However, Governor Hogan, citing the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis, vetoed the legislation among other major investments in education in Maryland.