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Morgan State president: Towson U. is attempting to duplicate HBCU’s business administration program

Morgan State President David K. Wilson speaking at a Maryland Higher Education Commission meeting June 14. Screenshot.

The president of Morgan State University is accusing Towson University of setting up a new academic discipline that duplicates a well-established program at Morgan — reigniting a bitter and longstanding fight in Maryland about white educational institutions creating programs that already exist at historically Black colleges and universities.

In a letter obtained Thursday by Maryland Matters, Morgan State President David K. Wilson claims a historic wrong will occur again in Maryland if Towson is allowed to establish a business analytics doctoral program. Wilson believes it will be similar to his school’s doctoral business administration program.

Wilson expressed frustration that the state’s 12-member Higher Education Commission (MHEC) last month approved Towson’s request to create the doctoral program, by a 4-3 vote.

Wilson appealed for help in a June 30 letter to two powerful state lawmakers who oversee education policy: Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery), chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Energy and the Environment, and Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

In his letter, Wilson argued that MHEC’s decision runs counter to legislation from two years ago that authorized a $577 million settlement to end a 14-year-old lawsuit charging that the state provided more resources for predominately white institutions and allowed duplication of programs from the state’s four HBCUs — Morgan State, Bowie State University, Coppin State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The settlement money is being used to enhance or expand academic programs, and implement new courses, scholarships and other programming at the HBCUs.

“It seems to me that the bill that legislatively settled the long-running HBCU lawsuit in 2021 explicitly required that a process be established to prohibit unnecessary program duplication going forward,” Wilson wrote to the lawmakers. “It was my understanding that until such processes and procedures were put in place, no action would be taken by MHEC that would harm the state’s HBCUs.”

According to a June 28 letter from commission Chair Mary Pat Seurkamp to Melanie Perreault, Towson’s interim president, the majority of those in attendance who voted in support of Towson disagree with Wilson.

“The decision is based upon the determination…that Towson’s proposed program is not unreasonably duplicative of Morgan’s Ph.D. in Business Administration generally or of the concentration in Supply Chain and Logistics Management,” Seurkamp wrote. “The majority found that while some elements of the programs were similar, ultimately the two programs have distinct differences in their curricula. This finding was made with the understanding that Towson’s admission criteria for the program are geared toward students who have a STEM background. Furthermore, we found that there was insufficient evidence of demonstrable harm to the existing program at Morgan.”

The letter states Towson’s approved program is “effective immediately” and said, “we encourage both institutions to continue to pursue opportunities for collaboration between the two programs.”

The letter doesn’t say which commissioners voted in favor of Towson’s proposal.

Wilson, in his letter, wants lawmakers to intervene and assess the Higher Education Commission’s review process “until an agreed upon process to mitigate undue academic program duplication in Maryland is put in place.”

Atterbeary said in a text message Thursday that she plans to meet separately with Wilson and the with leaders of the Higher Education Commission later this month. She declined to comment further until she hears what both parties have to say.

What’s the business?

Morgan State’s protest stems in part from an April assessment by Emily Dow, assistant secretary for academic affairs with MHEC, who suggested that Towson’s doctoral program would be duplicative of Morgan’s business administration program.

The commission held a special online meeting June 14 when Dow summarized her recommendation to not allow Towson to establish a doctoral program in business analytics.

She said Towson’s coursework would be based off two specializations that deal with supply chain management and technology management. The two at Morgan are supply chain and logistics management and information science.

Dow said some of the Towson courses would mirror those already offered at Morgan.

“We believe there is duplication. Two, the proposed program at Towson would cause harm to the existing program at Morgan. And three, we do not have an educational justification for the duplication,” Dow said. “I would like to acknowledge the agency’s explicit effort to encourage Towson to work with Morgan to develop a program that is not duplicative of Morgan’s existing program.”

Towson University officials said at the June 14 meeting that they tried to reach out to Morgan State representatives and received no responses.

Interim President Melanie Perreault said there’s an increase demand for doctoral studies in business analytics with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“Its admission is different [from Morgan’s program] based on those qualifications because the nature of the degree is different,” Perreault said.

Several other Towson officials discussed for about 20 minutes differences between its program and the one currently at Morgan, including that business analytics focuses on advanced statistical methods such as data mining to address challenges in business, health care, sports and other professions.

Judy Harris, interim dean with Towson’s college of business and economics, said other universities in the state and outside of Maryland offer separate programs in business analytics, supply chain management and information systems.

“These are separate-matters programs because the disciplines aren’t the same thing,” she said.

Harris said Towson’s doctoral program would require students to have a STEM-related degree and display math and statistical acumen prior to admission. In contrast, she said students admitted into Morgan State’s business administration program must demonstrate mastery of business-related topics such as accounting, marketing and finance.

Some of the Towson doctoral course would include a seminar in machine learning for business analytics, marketing analytics and metrics and a seminar in empirical business research.

Towson officials acknowledged some courses may overlap and are common to all doctoral programs nationwide, but Towson would use additional topics with computer programming language like Python.

Sanjay Bapna, a professor and chair at Morgan State’s Information Science and Systems, said on June 14 that one of his former students now works at Towson teaching courses on marketing analytics, human capabilities and human resource analytics.

Bapna said Morgan’s doctoral program “prepares students for business analytics.”

He also said Towson’s current application didn’t mention it would focus on accepting students with a STEM background.

Dow agreed, and said Towson could submit a revised proposal that would specify that the new program would target students who received an undergraduate or graduate degree with a STEM focus.

“We have to take what they write in their proposal,” she said.

A majority of the MHEC commissioners who attended the meeting voted in favor of Towson’s proposal, though a roll call was not immediately available Thursday night.

Those who voted June 14 to go into a closed-door session to discuss the proposal were Suerkamp, vice chair Charles McDaniels Jr., Vivian S. Boyd, James E. Coleman, Barbara Kerr Howe, Ray Serrano and Rebecca Taber Staeheline.

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Morgan State president: Towson U. is attempting to duplicate HBCU’s business administration program