Del. Charles E. Sydnor III: Hogan Should Accept $577M Offer to Settle HBCU Lawsuit

The Science Building at Bowie State University. Wikipedia Commons photo

A landmark lawsuit that has cost the State of Maryland millions in legal fees and national controversy has an opportunity to be settled, and our governor must seize the opportunity to do just that.

The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education has proposed a settlement with the state for our four historically black institutions – Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore – to receive $577 million over a period of years to remedy harm caused to the schools through years of illegal program duplication.

Del. Charles E. Sydnor III

A federal court ruled in 2013 that the state engaged in unconstitutional acts by maintaining duplicative programs at its HBCUs and predominantly white institutions, a practice which for generations was the bedrock of racially segregated systems of education. Since the ruling, Maryland has wrestled with students and alumni from the HBCUs over the scope of the harm caused to their schools while promoting the zero-sum notion that helping HBCUs would put non-HBCUs in jeopardy.

Appealing the judge’s decision has sent a message that even when found to have engaged in unconstitutional and discriminatory activity, Maryland was unwilling to accept culpability for its continuance of its segregated higher education system.

While Maryland has fought, HBCUs across the country have grown in enrollment, research funding and athletic achievement. Flagship institutions in states proximate to Maryland are among the fastest-growing in the HBCU sector and among similar-sized schools nationwide – driven in large part by increasing interest from students growing up here in Maryland.

What happens if our HBCUs are able to recruit and retain just a portion of those students? What could attractive and affordable schools mean for our goals of growing economies, empowering communities and remaining among the nation’s best places to live and work?

Settling this case is a win-win for Maryland. First, we can move forward from a shameful chapter in our state’s history while ensuring our ecosystem of colleges and universities is among the most competitive in the country. We can make this strengthened network of schools complementary of each other and match our state’s industrial needs.  Additionally, we can foreclose on the $1 billion-$2 billion exposure the state estimated it would cost to remediate this matter.

Governor Hogan owes it to the state and its citizens to truly change Maryland and end this case responsibly. It would be in the state’s best interest not to leave it to the court to determine the amount for damages.

— CHARLES E. SYDNOR III

The writer, a Democrat, represents Baltimore County’s District 44B in the House of Delegates.

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