If you were within 5-miles of Annapolis Monday night, you couldn't help but hear the college chants coming from the heart of Maryland's state capital, Lawyer's Mall. Along with a few cat-calls from the sororities and howls from the fraternities that amped the crowd, hundreds of students and faculty from Maryland's Historically Black Colleges and Universities emerged on the front steps of the Governor's Mansion demanding equity in funding for their institutions of higher learning.
“I like my H in front B, my C in front of my U...I love my HBCU” ~HBCU Chant
Led by the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus and its chairwoman Delegate Aisha Braveboy, along with the group HBCUnified; students packed seven chartered buses from Coppin and Morgan State in Baltimore, to Bowie State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, to make the trek to Annapolis demanding for a better education. Joined by some of the state's most prominent African American professors, county leaders and HBCU graduates and alumnus, Braveboy 'raised the green banner' in demanding the state to do more in terms of parity funding for these four institutions.
“Maryland can serve as a model for the rest of the country as other states grapple with the issues of past state-supported segregation and discrimination in higher education,” said Braveboy, a Prince George's County Delegate and possible candidate for Attorney General next year. “Governor O’Malley can be a leader by doing the right thing and providing increased funding for historically underfunded universities.”
The issue at hand is nothing new, in fact, it's an age-old issue that has consistently been ignored by the state, even when independent studies, commissions and legislators showed that the lack of such funding disproportionately affects the students of these black institutions; which led to a 2006 lawsuit brought against the state by the Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education - which has yet to have been ruled on.
During the era of segregation, when “separate but equal” was the law of the land; Maryland prepared a series of official reports documenting the conditions of its Historically Black Institutions and comparing them to its traditionally white counterparts. These reports chronicled a vast disparity between the two sets of institutions that Maryland promised to remedy but failed to do so. In defense of the lawsuit brought by HBCU students and alumni, the Office of the Attorney General argued that students at the HBCUs are not “injured” by these disparities and were not forced to attend HBCUs, but “chose” to do so.
Since Maryland's first grant to a black institution of learning in 1914, the contrast between the amount of money received by the two racial groups shows an enormous differential in favor of the white race, according to a 1937 report issued by the Commission of Higher Education of Negroes. Ten years later, the state's Marbury Commission report recommended that 'the state budget provide such annual appropriations for the higher education of negroes that the activities being conducted at these institutions be maintained on a basis equal in quality to those maintained by comparable white institutions; as the state has consistently shown a policy of providing higher education facilities for negroes which are inferior to those provided for whites'.
Yet, the state again ignored this request.
Between then and today, some 65-years later, state commissions have offered reports that the state has continued to ignore – including the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board in 1954 declaring 'separate but equal' actions illegal under the United States Constitution. It's a history people such as Delegate James Proctor knows all too well, as the 76-year old Bowie State alumnus recalls protesting inadequate educational facilities back in the 1960's when students traveled to Annapolis to lobby then Governor Spiro Agnew for the tools necessary to succeed. “As much as things change, the more they stay the same unfortunately,” says the five-term incumbent, who earned a B.S. in education from his HBCU.
“We gain valuable experiences from these schools that wouldn't necessarily be provided in other institutions based on the culture and similarities of our peers; yet we have never gotten the adequate financial incentives for achievement like the others, which is very disheartening.”
And while it's pretty clear cut as to what needs to be done in order to 'level the playing field' so that these young men and women can get a superior education instead of the 'adequate education' they've been getting; the Attorney General's Office – led by Doug Gansler - has been fighting this effort 'tooth and nail' with everything they have in order to ensure the lawsuits failure. The Assistant AG arguing the case was quoted as saying, “the State is supposed to allocate its scarce resources on some sort of field of dream ideas, that if we build a ballpark in a cornfield, old baseball players will come back and life will be great? Come on. That’s ridiculous.”
Which then begs the question, if the state's attorney doesn't want to see these institutions funded at levels equal to other white institutions, what makes you think the state's CEO (the Governor) would then go contrary to what his attorney his arguing against?
“We have seen a 20% increase in enrollment over the past 10-years, along with 50% more students graduating and 40% of them being STEM graduates (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics); yet the resources from the state have remained flat. Imagine what we could accomplish with additional funding?” ~ Dr. Bell, President of UMES
And the demands were simple, calling on the state and Governor Martin O'Malley to provide a special appropriation of $14 million per year in funding - over the next five years - to support student financial aid and adjunct professor conversion. In its 2013 HBCU budgetary request, the Md. Black Caucus has requested a total of $70 million to be allocated, by giving each of the four HBCUs $1.5 million a year for increased student financial assistance, along with another $2 million a year to each university for the conversion and/or hiring of 10-full time faculty; while also demanding that the state honor the request made by the University of Maryland System, to provide a full match to the federal grant fund available under the 1890 program for grant institutions like UMES.
“All we ask is that you support our efforts in making our educational way of life as promising and fulfilling as other white institutions around this state,” said UMES student government association president, Shanna Washington. “I shouldn't have to go to one of these other colleges or institutions to get the adequate funding and resources to have a prosperous future; as I enjoy attending a university with people who look like me and come from similar backgrounds.”
And their calls for justice and equity will be addressed to the Governor tomorrow – as he did not show up outside at the rally but sent a letter of support to the caucus - as members of the Black Caucus plan to meet with Maryland's commander-in-chief to carry the student's message. The term-limited Governor said in the letter that he 'suggested' to the Attorney General to settle the differences with the members of the MHEC, and stated that the AG's Office has told him they have contacted the judge in the lawsuit, Judge Paul W. Grimm, to “communicate their willingness to restart settlement discussions”.
However, Bowie State SGA President Tylar Brock said that they were called upon to fight for the resources necessary to assist in the graduation rates of HBCUs, and that no promise of 'what ifs and maybes' were gonna cede that call to action. Her co-hort, Shaquayah McKenzie, the SGA President of Morgan State University, also was less enthusiastic about a 'reported settlement', and urged people to join the fight for justice at Maryland HBCUs by signing the petition they drafted at: www.hbcunified.com “The movement may or may not be televised, but either way, we will not be denied our fight for a better education,” said a very spirited McKenzie.
For more information on this article or the efforts of #HBCUnified email me here, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, view photos and videos of the Rally in Annapolis and more on the DMVDaily's FB or Twitter pages or browse the services provided by GCOMM Media Co.