More than a decade ago, Maryland committed to dismantling whatever remained of its formerly segregated higher education system. Now, four Historically Black Institutions have brought suit, saying the state has not lived up to its end of the bargain. We explore the issues at the heart of the case.


  • David Burton Morgan State alum; and President of Maryland Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education
  • Jon Greenbaum Legal Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law


  • 12:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, what the U.S. relationship with China could mean for your pocketbook and your bank account. But first, we've all heard of Brown v. Board of Education, you know, the 1950s lawsuit synonymous with the federal government's ordering states to dismantle their segregated school systems, but I'm guessing you've never heard of United States v. Fordice. You likely will soon. Essentially, the Fordice case did for public colleges and universities what Brown v. Board did for K-12 education. No doubt, much has changed since states were first ordered to end their segregated systems of higher education, but some say Maryland did not live up to its obligations that the remnants of discrimination persist and must be remedied. To find out why four Historically Black Institutions recently sued the state of Maryland, we invited David Burton. He's an alumnus of Morgan State and president of the Maryland Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education. He joins us by telephone. David Burton, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:10

    MR. DAVID BURTONGood morning. How are you doing?

  • 12:08:11

    NNAMDIPretty good.

  • 12:08:12


  • 12:08:12

    NNAMDIAlso joining us by telephone is Jon Greenbaum, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Jon Greenbaum, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:21

    MR. JON GREENBAUMThank you, Kojo, for having us on.

  • 12:08:23

    NNAMDIJon, in 2000, the state of Maryland signed a formal agreement with the federal government specifically laying out how it would fully comply with desegregating higher education. What were the basics of that agreement?

  • 12:08:37

    GREENBAUMWell, there were nine portions of that agreement that covered a lot of different aspects of the operations involving the Historically Black Institutions, as well as the other institutions. A couple of the key ones, from our perspective, were the -- Maryland's obligation to avoid unnecessary duplication of programs at the Historically Black Institutions and the traditionally white institutions, as well as to create some unique programs at the Historically Black Institutions. And a second key component was for Maryland to make a commitment to fund the Historically Black Institutions, particularly with respect to capital funding at levels so that they would be comparable and competitive with the traditionally white institutions.

  • 12:09:34

    NNAMDIThe bottom line here being to make public so-called Historically Black Colleges and Universities comparable and competitive with predominately white counterpart institutions and enable those predominantly black institutions to attract non-black students, correct?

  • 12:09:52

    GREENBAUMThat is exactly right.

  • 12:09:54

    NNAMDIDavid Burton, five years ago, Maryland filed a report saying it is in compliance with that 2000 agreement, and that no remnants of institutional desegregation continue to exist. You disagree, and you disagree somewhat vehemently, right?

  • 12:10:12

    BURTONExactly. We think that that report did not address inefficiencies. In essence, it was inaccurate, and as was stated, you know, that there are essentially three major issues at the center piece of this lawsuit. And the first question is, has Maryland satisfied this affirmative obligation to remove the vestiges of segregation as manifested in the form of (word?). And we think they have not done that. Secondly, the question is, has Maryland satisfied this affirmative obligation to, you know, remove the disparity between -- in terms of facilities, between HBCUs and TWIs or traditionally white institutions. We think they have not done that. And the third question is, has Maryland satisfied this affirmative obligation to remove the funding disparities. In terms of funding allocations, the national disparities between HBCUs and the TWIs, we think they have not done that, and that the OCR report inaccurately stated its compliance with these factors.

  • 12:11:27

    NNAMDIWhen you say OCR, you mean the Office of...

  • 12:11:29

    BURTONOffice of Civil Rights, yes.

  • 12:11:29

    NNAMDI...Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

  • 12:11:33


  • 12:11:34

    NNAMDIHow was -- why did the Office of Civil Rights not be the one to be able to help you to do this and to get it accomplished? Why did you have to file a lawsuit, David?

  • 12:11:46

    BURTONWell, we've never actually got a response from the Office of Civil Rights, when we questioned the legitimacy of that state filing. And since that time, the question has been tossed about, but no official response has been received, and the case has moved forward.

  • 12:12:11

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. If you'd like to join the conversation here, you can also go to our website, We're discussing a lawsuit filed against the state of Maryland about its system of higher education, the allegation being that that system of higher education is still continuing to discriminate. Let's start with the funding aspect of it first. Jon Greenbaum, what is the argument about the lack of funding for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities compared to the predominately white institutions?

  • 12:12:47

    GREENBAUMKojo, it has two pieces. The first relates to the capital funding. And if you just walk around each of the Maryland higher education campuses and you look at the TWIs, the traditionally white institutions, like...

  • 12:13:06

    NNAMDIAnd we know the traditional white institution, the premiere one, is the University of Maryland College Park. When we're talking about the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, we're talking about Morgan State, Coppin State, Bowie State, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, correct?

  • 12:13:19

    GREENBAUMAbsolutely correct. So if, for example, you went to Morgan State and you compared it -- or Coppin State and you compared it, for example, to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, you would see an extreme difference in terms of the quality of facilities. Coppin State is a good example of it. Where Coppin State, if you look at -- it's almost like the tale of two campuses, where if you look at most of the campus, the buildings are old, drab, outdated, not very attractive, not very useful. They built a couple of new buildings on campus that really show what the campus should be like. And you compare that to the TWIs and you see a tremendous disparity. The second piece of the funding relates to the operational funding, and what you see over time -- our expert who's a professor that works in this area has determined is that in terms of the operating revenue that if you take the last 20 years, the HBIs have been underfunded by about $500 million compared to what they should be funded versus the TWIs. And so you have both the problems of the lack of operational funding and the disparity in capital facilities, and that's really kept the HBCUs in a subordinate position to the TWIs. And so they're not in a position to compete for the best students.

  • 12:14:57

    NNAMDIDavid Burton, you also say that duplication of subject matters and degree programs is another of the main problems. Can you explain what you mean by that?

  • 12:15:07

    BURTONYes. For example, the Fordice states that a TWI cannot duplicate a program that is being offered at an HBCU or (word?) education -- institution within a certain mile radius. An example would be Morgan's master's of business administration, which is duplicated essentially at Towson University within that mile -- I think it's 13 miles. It may be a different factor, but in essence, when that happens, Morgan is going to be a program, for example, with an integrated MBA program. When that happened at Towson, all of a sudden, Morgan's program became a segregated program, and essentially began to attract students that would normally have continued to go into Morgan. And when this pattern is repeated over and over again at other HBIs by the state, by funding TWIs, there's an erosion of that program's attractiveness to the students because this case is not about a better program for black students at Morgan or other HBCUs. It's about making those HBCUs as competitive for all students of all races and to ensure that the program remains competitive and of high...

  • 12:16:42

    NNAMDIAllow me to make sure I understand and that the listening audience understands exactly what you’re saying. If Morgan State is offering a master's in business administration program and then Towson, which is fairly close to Morgan State, begins to offer the same program, offering it at what you have already argued is a better funded facility, then students who would normally have taken that program at Morgan State -- black students, white students, Hispanic students -- would now be more tempted to go to Towson to take that course, thereby defeating the goals of Fordice, which is desegregating both of those schools.

  • 12:17:27

    BURTONExactly, Kojo.

  • 12:17:30

    NNAMDIOkay. What do you say to those people who say, Look, come on, today, any qualified student can go to any state school that they like?

  • 12:17:44

    BURTONWell, what I would say is that we need to begin where the law starts, and we can always look back and -- in the perspective of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I think we can look and say, what are the missions of HBCUs? I think the HBCUs have had a dual mission that has not been that of TWIs. And as indicated in the funding formulas, there's inequities even today in terms of how HBCUs continued to be funded, because it does not really recognize the historic mission of HBCUs to fund students who may not ordinarily have had an opportunity to attend a college or have had remedial requirements. HBCUs have had a dual mission that has not been the same mission of TWIs. And that dual mission has been one that has been mostly had by HBCUs. So, yes, to a degree, there is equality in terms for opportunity. But this case is about historic inequality that has led to conditions today, and the need to make HBCUs as competitive as TWIs.

  • 12:19:15

    NNAMDIWe're talking with David Burton. He is the president of the Maryland Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education. He joins us by telephone along with Jon Greenbaum, an attorney with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. We're talking about a lawsuit filed against the University -- against the state of Maryland for failing to desegregate its system of higher education. Jon Greenbaum, some people would say, why are we still concentrating on race as the main issue? They may be thinking, why not just merge these schools into the University of Maryland system, wouldn't that solve the problem?

  • 12:19:52

    GREENBAUMWell, Kojo, it is more complicated in that just because you have so many universities that have lasted for -- that have had their individual identities for a long time. It's not to say you can't foresee some examples where you could have mergers. Like, for example, in 1970 -- in the 1970s, there was a commission that said that the -- that Salisbury State should be absorbed into the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore. But I take it that if that same proposal were made today, the reaction would be maybe where it was at the time, and that is that people with ties to Salisbury wouldn't be so happy about merging into the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore.

  • 12:20:51

    NNAMDIWhat do you say to other critics who might say times have changed? After all, early in his administration, President Obama established a White House liaison to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. How has that helped or not, David Burton?

  • 12:21:08

    BURTONI think that has helped, too, since it ties the public to the need to recognize the historic economic contributions the HBCUs have had. And I think the continuation of that is, for me, you know, an important aspect of why I chose to move forward and to organize, to file the lawsuit. I feel very strongly that the HBCU is one of the most powerful and potentially dynamic economic resources in the black community. And that for it to have equitable access to the opportunities, corporate investment research, student placement, there has to be a proactive aspect of how those opportunities or -- had in today's economy.

  • 12:22:05

    BURTONI think the systematic erosion of HBCUs, systematically arose part of black history in this country, ad that we leverage the strength of our community. We don't destroy it. And I think, again, the self-fulfilling prophecy mindset of America in terms of starting to look forward without looking back is one that, personally, bothers me because it just means that if you neglect the problem long enough and don't pay attention to it, eventually, where people are today would catch up and people will forget. And I don't think we can do that here because there's been a -- the insidious strategy to ask that question today without looking back.

  • 12:23:02

    NNAMDIWe seem to be having a bit more of a nuanced conversation in the wake of Fordice than we had in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education in, particular, this conversation today. Both you, Jon Greenbaum and David Burton, what I hear David Burton saying is that on the one hand, if these institutions are appropriately funded, if the Fordice ruling is appropriately met, that these institutions will be better able to historically serve -- these institutions will be better able to serve the black community, which is their historical mission. And at the same time, it would serve the interest of desegregation because if that happens, then these institutions will find themselves being more attractive to white students and students of other races. Is that correct, Jon Greenbaum?

  • 12:23:54

    GREENBAUMYes, that is correct, Kojo. And one thing I quickly wanted to mention is that it's not just simply the plainest in this case and the lawyers who have -- see the need for more resources to the Historically Black Institutions. It's commission after commission that have come out of the state of Maryland that has said that, including a blue ribbon HBI study panel, which in 2008 made specific findings about the need for the Historically Black Institutions to get additional resources in terms of capital expenditures, in terms of operating expenditures and that they created a system where the HBIs can have some unique programs on their own to attract a stronger student body. But you're absolutely right, that we're talking about a situation where Historically Black Institutions served its role of being pillars in the African-American community and serving African-American students, but also making them attractive enough so that they become desegregated, and that you have more diversity on the campuses that exist today.

  • 12:25:20

    NNAMDIDavid Burton, there's the issue of perception. Here is an e-mail we got from Samuel in Silver Spring, Md. "I went to Coppin State, but my son says those who can go to the University of Maryland, those who can't go to an HBCU." Seems like a Catch-22. How do we change that image, David Burton?

  • 12:25:43

    BURTONKojo, I think that is at the heart of this in terms of the endgame, so to speak. This, in essence, is really about students of tomorrow, also, in terms of the decisions that they make. If we cannot equalize the physical facilities and the program funding -- and the program funding, of course, attracts, you know, the best of instructors, all these things are, you know, one big (unintelligible) that has square by square, been attacked and undergirded. And this is the challenge faced by most HBCUs today, the perception of inequality and the lack of understanding of the quality of programs that they can give at any HBCU. We won't solve this problem until we win this case. And I think when we do that, then we begin to address the issues of perception and understanding, because all of this has to happen and -- for that student to make a decision, because certainly the appearance trumps. (laugh) And that is, in essence, where this has gotten us to.

  • 12:27:05

    NNAMDIDavid Burton is an alumnus of Morgan State and the president of the Maryland Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education. David Burton, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:27:15

    BURTONYou're welcome, Kojo.

  • 12:27:16

    NNAMDIJon Greenbaum is an attorney with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Jon Greenbaum, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:27:23

    GREENBAUMThank you very much, Kojo.

  • 12:27:24

    NNAMDIThey are a part of the lawsuit against the Maryland education system, saying that it is not in compliance with Brown, with -- not Brown, but with United States v. Fordice. We'll be following that. We'll take a short break. When we come back, exactly what the U.S. relationship with China means for your pocketbook and your bank account. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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