A group of Maryland HBCU advocates wants the state Office of the Attorney General to “reconsider” its opinion that a state education commission should revote on a Towson University plan to establish a business analytics doctoral program.
Sharon Blake, the advocates’ spokesperson, wrote in a letter Monday to the attorney general’s office that a decision made in April by Emily Dow, assistant secretary for academic affairs with the state Higher Education Commission also known as MHEC, should remain intact indefinitely. Dow concluded that Towson’s program would be duplicative of Morgan State University’s business administration doctoral program and the request for a new degree program should be denied.
“We ask that you reconsider your opinion shared with MHEC, advise the Commission accordingly, and provide a written response to our letter in 3 to 5 business days,” wrote Blake, a graduate of Morgan State, which is one of Maryland’s four historically Black colleges and universities.
Patrick B. Hughes, chief counsel of opinions and advice in the attorney general’s office, wrote in an advice letter last week to commission leadership that Dow’s decision “remains in place, at least for the time being.”
That’s because a 4-3 vote in favor of Towson’s plan in June didn’t have a majority of the 12-member commission — at least seven people — vote in favor or against it. Hughes wrote the vote “was of no effect” because it lacked a majority, but suggested the board should meet again to vote.
Blake wrote Monday to Hughes “there is no justifiable reason for a do-over.”
HBCU advocates and Morgan State President David K. Wilson have said the commission’s vote goes against the spirit of legislation approved two years ago that authorized a $577 million settlement to end a lawsuit from 2006. A coalition of HBCU alumni and supporters who filed the suit argued that the state historically 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.
Jamie Abell, spokesperson for Towson, said Friday that the school has sought guidance from the commission on how to proceed “given the unprecedented circumstances just days before the start of the fall term.”
“At this time, our entire focus and energy is on serving our students,” Abell continued.
Sean Welsh, another Towson spokesperson, said Monday that the school is “not enrolling anyone in the program at this time.”
“We are working to support the students who applied and enrolled in good faith based on the June letter from MHEC that approved the program,” Welsh wrote in an email.
Towson begins the fall semester Aug. 28, but the MHEC board isn’t scheduled to meet again until Sep. 13.
MHEC spokesperson Rhonda Wardlaw said Monday afternoon that the commission continues to assess the guidance received by the attorney general’s office.
“The commission remains committed to ensuring that all the procedural requirements are met when engaging in academic program review,” she said.
Towson does have support from the University System of Maryland (USM), which comprises of 12 higher education institutions that includes Towson and three of the state’s HBCUs, but not Morgan State.
“To be clear, the Attorney General has only determined that the voting process at MHEC was flawed, this is not a statement about program duplication,” according to the system’s statement. “USM leadership continues to believe that the Towson doctoral program in business analytics is distinct from the existing business administration doctoral program at Morgan State University. TU has followed all established MHEC procedures in gaining approval for its new program.”
The system’s statement also highlighted the support for a legislative workgroup formed by the General Assembly this year to review the commission’s degree approval process at the state’s colleges and universities.
The workgroup held its first meeting online last week and is scheduled to reconvene in the same format Sept. 19.
“We look forward to the establishment of clear guidelines and processes that work for all institutions and all students,” the USM statement continued. “The citizens of the State of Maryland expect and deserve colleges and universities that will lead the nation in innovation and contribute the breakthroughs necessary for today’s knowledge economy. We must create an environment within MHEC that ensures that outcome.”