Federal Judge Says Maryland Failed to Desegregate Its Public Colleges

A U.S. District Court ruled on Monday that Maryland had failed to fully desegregate its public higher-education system.

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed in 2006 by a group of students and alumni of Maryland’s four historically black universities: Bowie State, Coppin State, and Morgan State Universities and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

The plaintiffs accused the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which sets policy for the state’s public and private colleges, of allowing traditionally white institutions in the state-university system to duplicate many of the degree programs that would have made the black colleges more competitive for students. The suit also sought increased state appropriations for the four black colleges.

Judge Catherine C. Blake of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore agreed that the state had allowed traditionally white universities to offer many more unique, high-demand programs than black colleges were allowed. The effect of that policy, the judge ruled, was that the black colleges had been unable to fully compete for white students. As a result, she said, the black colleges were more racially segregated now than in the 1970s.

Judge Blake did not find, however, that the state’s policies for appropriating money to black colleges represented an intentional effort to discriminate against them. The group of plaintiffs “has not proven that the state continues to employ any funding policy or practice that is traceable to the de jure era [of segregation] that must be eliminated,” she wrote in a 60-page opinion.

The judge also did not determine how the state must remedy the problem of program duplication. Instead, she urged the parties to take part in mediation to come up with a solution. She also suggested that high-demand programs could be transferred from traditionally white institutions to historically black ones, or such programs at both black and white colleges could be merged.

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