Maryland speaker’s legislation would force settlement of long-running HBCU lawsuit

Maryland speaker’s legislation would force settlement of long-running HBCU lawsuit


By Pamela Wood

Baltimore Sun |
Feb 07, 2020 | 10:30 AM

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones is hoping to force the state to settle a long-running lawsuit that alleges it made decisions that harmed the viability of Maryland's historically black colleges and universities, including Coppin State University in Baltimore, shown in this 2007 photo.

 

Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones is hoping to force the state to settle a long-running lawsuit that alleges it made decisions that harmed the viability of historically black colleges and universities.

A federal court has already ruled against the state in parts of the lawsuit, which four state universities filed in 2006.

Both sides have participated in court-ordered settlement discussions, but have not reached an agreement.

Jones is introducing a bill in the House that would require the governor to spend $580 million over the next 10 years at the four colleges on initiatives including creating academic programs, expanding scholarships and financial aid, recruiting faculty, providing more academic supports to students and marketing the schools to potential students.

The spending proposed in Jones’ legislation is in line with a request for a $577 million settlement from a coalition representing Bowie State University, Coppin State University and Morgan State University in Baltimore, and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.

Gov. Larry Hogan, meanwhile, has held firm that he will not increase the state’s “final offer” last fall of $200 million, an increase over an earlier $100 million offer.

“No one is more committed to resolving this issue than Governor Hogan, who has funded HBCUs at record levels and dramatically increased the state’s offer to settle this 13-year-long lawsuit,” Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the Republican governor, said in a statement.

One of the key issues of contention in the lawsuit is that the state allowed predominantly white institutions to have academic programs that duplicated those at the historically black colleges, perpetuating segregation among the state’s universities.

“The issue of program duplication has lingered for far too long and is a blemish on our state’s strong system of higher education,” Jones said Thursday in a statement. “I am pleased to have a solution to move forward and offer every student the support for the bright future they deserve.”

Michael D. Jones, an attorney representing the universities, said he’s pleased lawmakers are trying to resolve the lawsuit.

“I think this is an excellent development. I applaud her leadership,” Jones said of the Democratic speaker.

The attorney said the governor has been “shortsighted” not to settle the lawsuit and fund improvements at the colleges.

“I think the legislature is taking a longer view of this and recognizing that ultimately, it will be good for the state,” he said.

Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said his group supports Jones’ legislation.

“We have the opportunity to set a precedent for other states to follow as we make history in the state of Maryland,” Barnes, a Prince George’s Democrat, said in a statement.