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Friday, April 06, 2007

Maryland Senate Seeks to Protect HBCU's

The Maryland Senate approved a bill last week that was intended to protect the state's historically black public colleges from having their white students drawn away by new programs at other colleges that duplicate their own.

The bill was drafted in response to a 2005 vote by the Maryland Higher Education Commission to let the University of Baltimore and Towson University jointly offer a new program — a master's degree in business administration — that had been strongly opposed by the historically black Morgan State University. Morgan State complained at the time that the commission was violating a federal desegregation agreement under which it had pledged to prevent the duplication of programs already offered by historically black colleges seeking to attract white students. So far, however, the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has declined to intervene.

Lawmakers passed a measure last year allowing colleges to appeal commission decisions on duplicative programs to a state circuit court. The state's governor at the time, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, vetoed the bill.

The bill that the State Senate passed last week requires the commission to make a decision on whether a program is duplicative if it is challenged as such by one of the state's four public historically black colleges: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. The measure also provides that the commission's decisions on the matter are subject to appeal to a state circuit court covering a jurisdiction of the state where none of the colleges involved in the dispute is located.

At the urging of State Sen. James Brochin, a Democrat from Baltimore County who had complained that Towson University was being unfairly singled out, the bill was amended with a provision allowing colleges to operate programs for at least four years after the commission has declared them duplicative and ordered them shut down.

The measure, which the Senate approved 27 to 19, had not been acted on by the state's House of Delegates as of last week.

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