The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc. is engaged in a lawsuit to help close the disparities between HBCUs and PWIs in Maryland. (commons.wikimedia.org)
The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc. is engaged in a lawsuit to help close the disparities between HBCUs and PWIs in Maryland. (commons.wikimedia.org)

The road has been an arduous one, but a lawsuit filed more than five years ago seeking $2.1 billion to remedy what it contends are disparities between Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities and its traditionally White institutions is nearing trial in Baltimore.

Its outcome could affect higher education for decades to come.

“The best thing is that we are cleared for trial,” John C. Brittain, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, said Tuesday after a pre-trial hearing in United States District Court in Baltimore. The lawsuit, for which Brittain serves as co-counsel, asserts that inequities between Maryland’s Black colleges and its White institutions have long existed. “All the preliminary issues have been settled. We are cleared for trial.”

The lawsuit, filed in October 2006 by a group of students and alumni of historically Black colleges known as the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc., contends that Maryland has operated a higher education system of “de jure segregation” – racial segregation imposed by law – in violation of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and of Title VI of the U. S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The disparities in operational funding and programs asserted in the lawsuit have been most apparent over the years to many students at historically Black colleges and universities.

For instance, Eugene Smith recalls the day he first spotted mold on the ceiling of the Jenkins Behavioral Science Building at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

“There was a lot of mold and residue build-up,” said Smith, 23, who graduated last year and is now pursuing a master’s degree in higher education administration, also at Morgan. “There were cracks in the ceiling – and when it rained, there was mildew, and it grew over time.”

Meanwhile, Zenia Wilson, a Morgan graduate two years earlier who now is studying civil rights and public-interest law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, had to pay out of pocket to spend a summer studying in Mexico.

“I became very intrigued with the idea of studying abroad and didn’t understand why there wasn’t a program at Morgan that helped students with this endeavor,” said Wilson, also 23. “Friends at traditionally White institutions had centers and programs that encouraged study abroad, but we didn’t. I was not able to receive classroom credits for the summer that I spent in Mexico.”

And, nearly a dozen years after graduating from Coppin State University, Keith Reed, now a Senior Editor at ESPN The Magazine, still remembers when the computers broke down while trying to put out the student newspaper. He had to use Morgan’s operations to get the job done.

“What I did was get on the bus and rode over to the East Side – and got off the bus and went over to Morgan and used their facility to put out our proofs for the student newspaper,” said Reed, now 34, who edited The Courier his senior year. “Our computers would regularly break down. It was very difficult.”

“The equipment was outdated,” Reed said. “We were working on PCs instead of Macs like we should’ve been. The computers rarely worked.”

During his years at Morgan, Smith found the conditions so deplorable that he became involved in the school’s Student Government Association, ultimately running for president his senior year on a platform that included seeking improved resources for the university.

Smith was elected. “Someone had to fight for the rights of the university,” he said.

by Todd Beamon. Read more at The Afro.