In Maryland, Racism is a Commodity Higher Education Can No Longer Afford

More than 50 faculty members, students and graduates from Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities huddled in front the steps of the state’s capitol building yesterday, protesting a set of remedies given by the state to a federal judge deciding how best to fix its historic and illegal Jim Crow system of higher education.

Citing persistent underfunding, poaching of competitive academic programs and limited opportunities for students, faculty members rallied for increased awareness and support from legislators to reverse engineer one of the nation’s most racially separatist systems of determining where students earn degrees and in what disciplines they will forge careers.

Their rally came less than one day and just steps away from the chambers where lawmakers debated Senate Bill 1052, legislation which proposes the consolidation of the state’s flagship University of Maryland-College Park and the University of Maryland-Baltimore, in an effort to create a university research entity which would be among the largest in the country.

Opposition to this bill is mostly campus-based, but it has proponents in city and state rainmakers, like UMD graduate and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, and Baltimore Orioles owner and famed attorney Peter Angelos. From the Baltimore Sun:

“I think it’s an encouraging and a very exciting concept, particularly for us in Maryland because we don’t do much of getting together, staying together and advancing together,” Angelos said Tuesday at a hearing in Annapolis. “Let’s pass this bill. Let’s get on with it.”

This spirit of collaboration, new among legislators and business owners, is refreshing given the economic straits facing higher education around the country. But these champions for efficiency and national research prowess can’t be short-sighted or racist in their goals.

Because if Angelos, Plank and others are honestly in favor of consolidating two campuses more than 30 miles apart, then certainly they would oppose federal judge Catherine Blake’s ruling against the merger of the University of Baltimore into Morgan State University as a condition of remedy for the state’s separate-but-equal system of higher education.

These business leaders and legislators want the same things that HBCU faculty, students and alumni want — for the state to spend its money more wisely. The difference is that HBCU supporters want more money to be spent in support of those schools which grant the greatest opportunities to the widest pool of students, not just a select few based upon race and affluence.

HBCU advocates don’t want all the state’s money, just more to help schools become attractive options for a diverse range of students, and enough to make sure that they don’t have to sue and wait for a 20 year path of decisions and appeals to get it.

MD Black Caucus Chair Del. Barbara Robinson
Maryland Legislative Black Caucus Chair Barbara Robinson makes remarks at yesterday’s HBCU faculty protest at the state capital.
Posted by HBCU Digest on Thursday, March 3, 2016

Racism is far too costly, and higher education far too antiquated of a business model to try to intertwine the two. You can’t break the law by way of discriminating against minority students, only to apply rules of efficiency outside of the same campuses and communities most ravaged by the discrimination.

Why avoid giving black colleges hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding today, when a federal court will inevitably break your heart and the bank 20 years from now with drawn out litigation to make black campuses and communities whole with a mandated payout which could equal billions?

Why build white campuses so large that you think a judge would not dream of injuring them by way of merger or consolidation, only to have that same judge drain the resources necessary to maintain those ivory cities to bring HBCUs closer to comparability?

And why become the national poster child for white privilege and discrimination against four HBCUs, when states like Louisiana and North Carolina have you outnumbered with many more public black campuses, far more racist white voters to whom their legislators must answer, and far fewer dollars to work with than Maryland?

Kevin Plank and Peter Angelos are on the right track; save money and make Maryland stronger at the same time by consolidating and investing in a streamlined system of higher ed. Maryland can model for America a new way forward in race relations and efficiency by way of support for black colleges. With a presidential election, Congressional seats and Supreme Court appointments all uncertain, there is no telling the price that will be owed for thinking black folks aren’t paying attention, or in believing that we do not have a clear view of exactly what we deserve.

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