Ask Candidates for Maryland Governor About Future HBCU Funding

This article is originally from The Baltimore Sun.

In her commentary, “What Baltimoreans should ask gubernatorial candidates” (Aug. 4), Diana Morris of Open Society Institute-Baltimore presents some important questions for candidates vying to be Maryland’s next governor to answer. Members of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) community and allies who believe in the value of the diverse higher education system in America and in the state are eagerly awaiting word from both candidates about when and how they propose to settle the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, Inc., et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et al., lawsuit.

This case between the state and alumni and friends of Maryland’s public HBCUs challenges the failure of the state to invest in HBCUs such that they are “comparable to and competitive with” the public historically white colleges and universities in Maryland as required by law. Five years after District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake held Maryland liable for perpetuating a separate and unequal system of higher education, segregated by race, in violation of the law, and mandated remedial actions, the case has not been settled. The policies and practices traceable to the vestiges of de jure segregation persist.

The electorate deserves to know when and how the Democratic candidate for governor and the incumbent Republican governor will close the book on this dark history and present blight on the “the Free State.” Data abound about the impact of Bowie State University, Coppin State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Morgan State University. For example, Morgan State documents its annual statewide economic impact of nearly $1 billion. It creates 6,500 jobs and provides $47 million in state tax revenue. Bowie, Coppin and UMES likewise document disproportionate progress in moving the state toward closing its education, economic, wealth and employment gaps.

We are optimistic that Maryland wants to and will move to finding a fair, equitable and efficient way to removing the vestiges of the discrimination in Maryland higher education and to closing the chapter on the ignominious dual and unequal higher education system. Now is the time to do so, when the electorate can consider whether, when and how both candidates will resolve this 35-year-old blight on the education and economic progress of the state.

Before 2019 when Maryland marks the 400th year of Africans in America looking back at the 20 Africans who arrived in Port Comfort in 1619, and the tremendous progress people of African descent have made in Maryland since then, the electorate needs to know how the gubernatorial candidates will eliminate the scourge of its dual and unequal higher education system and define “comparability and competitiveness” for all other states identified as having discriminated against HBCUs.

Lezli Baskerville, Washington, D.C.

The writer is president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.