A Matter of Diversity, Equity, and Necessity: The Tension between Maryland's Higher Education System and Its Historically Black Colleges and Universities over the Office of Civil Rights Agreement

Article excerpt

Eighteen years after the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Fordice, many states have complied somewhat or not at all to its mandates. This has been particularly evident in Maryland, where the presidents of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are pressuring the state to fulfill its commitment with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), stemming from Fordice, to make HBCUs comparable to their White peers. While Maryland has declared that it has complied with its OCR agreement by preventing unnecessary program duplication between HBCUs and White institutions, investing more money into HBCUs, and increasing racial diversity on all of its public campuses, leaders of the State's HBCUs charge Maryland with not fully honoring its commitment. In this article, the authors will discuss Maryland's collegiate desegregation plan, stemming from the Supreme Court's decision-U. S. v. Kirk Fordice, and explain the tension resulting from the HBCUs leaders' accusations of Maryland's lack of commitment to this agreement.

Keywords: HBCUs, equity, diversity, and Fordice

Although recent articles in national (e.g., Dechter, 2008; Thernstrom & Therastrom, 2007) and local (e.g., Abdullah, 2008) newspapers have continued to question the relevance of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), new scholarship (Gasman et al., 2007; Hubbard, 2006; Kim & Conrad, 2006; Minor, 2008a; Palmer & Gasman, 2008) has helped answer this question by supporting the earlier research of HBCU scholars (Alien, 1992; Brown, 2001; Davis, 1994; Fleming, 1984; Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Gasman, 2005; Gurin & Epps, 1975; Kim, 2002). Questions about the importance of HBCUs have been particularly noticeable in Maryland, where the presidents of these institutions are pressuring the State to fulfill its commitment with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U. S. Department of Education, stemming from Fordice (United States v. Fordice, 1992) to make HBCUs comparable to their White peers, enabling them to attract non-minority students. Meanwhile, local media outlets are using every opportunity to point out the perceived insignificance of these institutions, noting poor retention and graduation rates, but neglecting to consider the remedial education that many of these institutions must provide due to neglect at the primary and secondary level (see Dechter, 2008).

Despite the decline in the number of Black students attending HBCUs over the years, as many have opted to attend predominantly White institutions (PWIs), prompted by several government initiatives (i.e., Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Civil Right Act of 1964, and the implementation of the federal aid program), researchers have consistently argued that Black institutions foster a supportive and nurturing environment (Berger & Milem, 2000; Brown, Bertrand, & Donahoo, 2001; Fries-Britt & Turner 2002; Minor, 2008a; Outcalt & Skewes-Cox, 2002; Palmer & Gasman, 2008; Seifert, Drummond, & Pascarella, 2006). Black students at these institutions are more satisfied, engaged in the community, and well-adjusted (Alien, 1992; Fleming, 1984; Fries-Britt & Turner; Harper, Carini, Bridges, & Hayek, 2004; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).

Research has also shown that Black students on HBCU campuses exhibit positive psychosocial adjustments, cultural awareness, and increased confidence (Alien, 1992; Fleming, 1984; Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002). These students, according to Fleming (1984), experience more contact with faculty, greater satisfaction with their academic lives, and exhibit higher career aspirations. Fleming also explained that intellectual development is more positive for Blacks in Black colleges. Moreover, research has indicated that the HBCU experience propels more Blacks into graduate and professional degree programs (Alien, 1991, 1992; Brown et al., 2001; Brown & Davis, 2001; Garibaldi, 1997; Minor, 2008a; Perna, 2001; Roebuck & Murty, 1993; Wenglinsky, 1996). …