- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — An advocacy group with ties to Morgan State University has filed a lawsuit to dismantle several new academic programs at traditionally white campuses, arguing Maryland has failed to desegregate its colleges and universities.

One of the programs cited is a joint MBA program at Towson University and the University of Baltimore.

The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education asked for a court order Friday that will mandate parity in “all facets of … operations and programs” between the state’s four historically black campuses and its other schools, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“Maryland has an obligation to desegregate its higher education, and it made an agreement to do so … and it did not live up to that agreement,” said Kenneth Lavon Johnson, the coalition’s lead attorney.

The group filed the lawsuit as the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, in Philadelphia, examines Maryland’s five-year desegregation partnership that ended in December.

The state agreed not to establish academic programs at historically white schools that were “unnecessarily duplicative” of those at historically black colleges. The agreement was made to comply with a landmark 1992 Supreme Court ruling that stated such duplication perpetuates segregation.

Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson has been monitoring duplication, particularly of programs already offered at his historically black campus in Northeast Baltimore.

He successfully has blocked the establishment of several new programs at area universities, notably an electrical engineering major at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County.

But Mr. Richardson lost his fight last year to block the joint master’s of business administration program at Towson and the University of Baltimore. Members of the coalition that filed the lawsuit Friday said the defeat was a major reason for their legal challenge.

Their complaint asks the court to strip Towson of its designation as the “state’s metropolitan university,” which the coalition says threatens Morgan’s identity as “the state’s public urban university.” The coalition that filed the lawsuit includes many Morgan alumni.

Calvin Burnett, the state secretary of higher education, said Friday that Maryland had made a good-faith effort to fulfill its federal civil rights obligations.

“One thing that’s great about this country is you can file a suit against a ham sandwich, but you’ve got to go into court and prove it doesn’t taste right,” he said. “If this goes into court, I am confident … that we will be able to defend ourselves.”

The lawsuit also asks the court to rescind the University of Baltimore’s approval to start admitting freshmen and sophomores next year, apparently because of the competition those admissions could create for Morgan and Coppin.

Towson University officials declined to comment because they had not reviewed the complaint, but the University of Baltimore defended its MBA program with Towson and its new role in admitting freshmen.

“We’re confident both of those programs meet all legal standards or any scrutiny,” said Peter Toran, a spokesman for the University of Baltimore.

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