The state of Maryland failed to take steps to fix segregation in public higher education in violation of students' constitutional rights, a federal trial judge said Monday.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake found Maryland continued to allow traditionally white institutions to set up specialized academic programs already in place at historically black institutions. This created a "segregative effect" by discouraging non-black students from applying to the historically black schools, she said.
"The State offered no evidence that it has made any serious effort to address continuing historic duplication," the judge wrote. "Second, and even more troublingly, the State has failed to prevent additional unnecessary duplication, to the detriment of" historically black institutions, or HBIs.
Blake urged the parties to go to mediation to find a solution to the duplication problem, saying she would delay entering a judgment in the meantime. The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, a group made up of students and alumni of the state’s historically black institutions, sued the state in 2006.
Michael Jones, lead counsel for the coalition and a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, said in a statement that the plaintiffs were looking forward to coming up with solutions for the duplication issue. Blake said likely fixes would include transferring certain programs to historically black institutions.
"We expect that at the end of the process Maryland's HBIs will be shining examples of the possibilities at HBIs," Jones said. Co-lead plaintiffs' counsel was Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
A spokeswoman for Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D) said officials were reviewing the ruling and would consider mediation, although they disagreed with the judge's findings on duplication. "We are pleased, though not surprised, that the court recognized our commitment to provide access to quality public colleges and universities for all Marylanders," spokeswoman Samantha Kappalman said.
The coalition’s claims came down to three issues: first, whether the official missions of historically black institutions were more limited than traditionally white institutions; second, whether funding formulas put historically black institutions at a disadvantage; and finally, whether state policies led to unnecessary duplication of programs already in place at historically black institutions.
Blake held a six-week bench trial in January 2012 and heard oral arguments in October of that year.
In yesterday's opinion, Blake credited state officials with making progress in dismantling segregation that plagued the state's higher education institutions for decades. In 1969, the U.S. Department of Education designated Maryland as one of 10 states operating racially-segregated systems of education in violation of the Civil Rights Act.
However, the judge sided with the plaintiffs on the question of program duplication. At issue were programs outside core courses in the liberal arts, sciences and at the master's level and above; one example cited was a master's in business administration program. The coalition's expert found that 60 percent of noncore programs at historically black institutions in Maryland were unnecessarily duplicated, compared with 18 percent of noncore programs at historically white schools.
When historically black institutions have unique programs, the judge wrote, "they will be more empowered to attract a diverse student body." She found state officials failed to prove any educational justification for the duplicated programs.
Addressing the plaintiffs' other two claims, Blake said the coalition did not prove the state was responsible for more limited missions at historically black institutions or that the state had funding policies or practices that could be traced to the previous era of segregation.