A grassroots solution to inequitable higher education in Baltimore

A grassroots solution to inequitable higher education in Baltimore

By Marvin “Doc” Cheatham and Owen Silverman Andrews

Baltimore Sun |
Nov 14, 2019 | 2:59 PM

This summer, The Sun published dueling op-eds from the presidents of two of Baltimore’s renowned institutions of higher education, proposing new governance structures for certain city institutions of higher education. In the first, University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke suggested combining the University of Baltimore (UB), Coppin State University and Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) into an entity known as the “City University of Baltimore.” In the second, Morgan State University President David Wilson argued, eloquently, that UB should merge into Morgan.

We appreciate the innovative approaches, but, as community organizers in West and Southeast Baltimore, we believe it is time for a vision from the grassroots level to emerge to guide our city’s colleges and universities into the new decade.

We call for sweeping changes to a status quo that has failed our students and communities and propose that Baltimore City Community College should merge with the Community College of Baltimore County to become the new Community College of Baltimore. This would relieve the fiscal strain caused by city residents seeking community college education in the county due to the separate and unequal conditions between the two schools. To ensure the merger is equitable, the Community College of Baltimore’s Board must be made up of two elected county residents, two elected city residents and three members appointed by the county executive, mayor and governor, respectively.

The benefits of establishing the Community College of Baltimore will be enjoyed by both Baltimore City and Baltimore County students, workers and stakeholders. Current CCBC students, staff and faculty will gain more direct access to the economic engines of Baltimore City’s medical, corporate and cultural institutions, resulting in more internship, job and research opportunities. And current BCCC stakeholders, especially those who live closer to the ring of CCBC campuses around the city, will have shorter commute times and lower tuition to their places of work and study.

Further, we see the decision to cut staff positions and hundreds of thousands of dollars from BCCC’s successful English Language Services (ELS) Department as an act of self-sabotage inflicted within a larger landscape in Maryland that is hostile to immigrants and community colleges. ELS primarily serves Baltimore’s growing immigrant community, an expanding demographic within the city’s pre-K through 12 and higher education student bodies. We call on the Maryland General Assembly and City Hall to restore this lost grant funding.

We also agree with Morgan State University President David Wilson that the University of Baltimore should merge into Morgan State University as its downtown campus.

In light of Maryland’s checkered history of segregation in higher education and disinvestment in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as the irresponsible underfunding of our state’s community colleges, these significant reforms are not only practical and just, but sorely needed.

Likewise, elected and appointed officials must stop pulling the chair out from under us with stunts like transferring the Baltimore Police Department’s training academy to the University of Baltimore instead of Coppin State University, which came as a surprising blow in West Baltimore and the communities Coppin anchors. While Coppin would not be directly impacted by the mergers we propose, such disregard cannot continue. Instead, Coppin and West Baltimore must be strengthened by meaningful state investment in faculty, research and, most importantly, students.

Continued neglect of Maryland’s HBCUs, community colleges, staff, faculty and students will lead to ever-increasing inequality in our state. The cost of this inequality, coupled with the debt Maryland owes to black people, is staggering.

As Georgetown University and others begin accounting for the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow, Maryland must become a national leader in forging forward with reparations in the field of higher education. Elected officials in Annapolis and City Hall, as well as newly selected University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman, must act decisively with reparative and sweeping reforms to scale with the challenges students, faculty and staff at Baltimore’s colleges and universities face. Maryland can lead the nation in higher education, but we must lead with equity.

Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, an alumnus of BCCC and Coppin State University, is CEO of the Matthew A. Henson Community Development Corporation in West Baltimore; his email is civilrights@verizon.net. Owen Silverman Andrews, a former adjunct faculty member of BCCC and CCBC, is co-chair of the Baltimore City Green Party and lives in Southeast Baltimore; his email is owen.s.andrews@gmail.com.