Maryland’s HBCUs rally for funding and support

Members of the Morehouse College 2002 graduating class sing their school song during commencement ceremonies May 19, 2002 in Atlanta. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

Members of the Morehouse College 2002 graduating class sing their school song during commencement ceremonies May 19, 2002 in Atlanta. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

More than 2,000 students and supporters of Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities will converge outside Maryland State House on Monday afternoon to lobby legislators for increased funding and support.

The demonstration, organized by a coalition of groups, is scheduled to take place at 5:30 pm. The organizers, which include the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, say the colleges were underfunded during the era of segregation and the state has not done enough to close the gap.

“Our message is clear,” said LáVita M. Simpson, executive director of the Caucus, “We now need to focus on HBCUs and the issues that have resulted from a history of underfunding.”

The coalition believes there is a need for more funding, increased financial aid and improved facilities for the colleges to compete effectively with other higher education institutions. They say although the state has, in recent years, tried to provide additional funding, the cumulative financial deficiencies these universities have suffered over the decades far outweigh recent funding efforts.

Simpson said a major is issue is the disproportionate number of part-time or adjunct professors at Maryland’s HBCUs because of a lack of funding. Unlike full-time professors, for the most part adjunct professors are unable to quality for research funding, which she said is an important source of income to colleges and universities.

However, a spokeswoman for the Governor of Maryland said his administration is committed to supporting the black colleges. “The O’Malley-Brown Administration is committed to equitable funding of Maryland’s historically black institutions,” she told theGrio. “This administration has provided nearly $1.4 billion in operating and capital funding since taking office.”

The Caucus, though, is asking that Governor O’Malley provide for a special appropriation of $14 million per year in funding over the next five years, beginning in 2014.

Following the rally, on Thursday the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland will meet with Governor O’Malley at the Governor’s Mansion to carry the students’ request directly to the top official.

“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 Delegate Aisha N. Braveboy in a statement. “Governor O’Malley can be a leader by doing the right thing and providing increased funding for historically underfunded universities.”

As part of the Caucus’ push, they are also calling on the Governor to end to the six-year legal battle between the Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education in Maryland, which represents the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the State of Maryland.

The lawsuit was filed in 2006 by students and alumni of Maryland’s historically black institutions. They are seeking $2.1 billion to remedy what the suit contends are disparities between Maryland’s HBCUs and its traditionally White institutions.

Among others, the initiative is backed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), CASA de Maryland, Maryland and Prince George’s County Young Democrats, Maryland Best Democratic Club, Coalition of Future Leaders, Maryland’s Predominantly Black Institutions, the Collective Empowerment Group, and the Sierra Club.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities are producing future leaders, especially in science and engineering, and they need increased funding to be able to support students who are pursuing degrees in these critical fields,” said Vidal Hines, Clean Energy Organizer of the Sierra Club, in a statement. “These students will be the trailblazers who design and develop technologies like offshore wind turbines that are essential for transitioning Maryland to a 21st-century clean energy economy.”

Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities are Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

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