(Annapolis, Maryland) – Four Maryland historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) are set to receive $577 million in additional funding in legislation passed by Maryland’s General Assembly designed to settle a 15-year legal battle between the state and the Coalition for Excellence and Equity in Maryland Higher Education. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed the legislation today at an event at Bowie State University. Governor Hogan vetoed similar legislation last year.
The legislation is designed to bring an end to a long-running case, The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc., et al. vs. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et al., a 2006 case which was brought by students and alumni of the state’s four HBCUs – Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The legislation provides that the release of the $577 million in supplemental funding, which will be allocated over 10 years, is contingent on the parties in the lawsuit settling the case by June 1, 2021 and receiving court approval of the settlement by June 11, 2021. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit had proved to the federal district court that Maryland violated the U.S. Constitution by failing to educationally enhance the programmatic offerings of its HBCUs in a manner that would allow them to be comparable and competitive with the state’s majority white institutions.
“The signing of the legislation today paves the way for a landmark agreement that will not only enhance the four HBCU’s, but advance education equality in the state of Maryland,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel and senior deputy director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who served as co-lead counsel in the case. “The General Assembly’s successful effort to provide the four HBCUs with long overdue funding and a process for creating and developing high demand, unique programs will enable the HBCUs to be competitive in recruiting students of color and all students, thereby helping bridge the racial divide in the state’s higher-education system.”
The $577 million will be used to bolster academic programs at the four Maryland HBCU’s that will make them more appealing and unique to prospective students. In addition, Maryland will be prohibited from using this funding as an excuse to limit, reduce, or otherwise negatively affect the HBCU’s budget in the future.
“I am very excited that this case is moving forward and we are closer to the final stages of signing the settlement,” said Michael Jones, partner, Kirkland and Ellis LLP, co-lead counsel in the case, which he handled pro bono. “We as a firm have never given up the fight because we believe in the importance of more equitable funding of all colleges and universities in the state. HBCUs are an important part of Maryland’s education system and will now be able to help students of all races and ethnicities even more and that means so much to me.”
“Several years after courts ruled that the state of Maryland must fully commit to pull apart funding policies that directly targeted and disadvantaged HBCUs, we are pleased with this significant step forward today,” said David Burton, a Morgan State University alum and member of The Coalition of Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education. “Today should be celebrated as a new beginning for Maryland HBCUs and higher education statewide. Our coalition looks forward to seeing this through to the end.”
In 2006, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education and HBCU students and alumni sued the state, alleging that fostered segregation and disadvantages to the legacy school by limiting their role and mission and unnecessarily duplicating their distinctive programs at the state’s majority white higher education institutions. The lawsuit argued that these practices allowed for a systematically perpetuated system of unequal higher education. After a six-week liability trial, Judge Catherine C. Blake of the United States District Court in Maryland found in 2013 that the state had not dismantled its decades-long policy of program duplication in violation of the United States constitution. After a seven-week remedial trial in 2017, Judge Blake ordered a remedial plan. After the state appealed these rulings, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered the parties to mediation. The legislation passed by the General Assembly broke a years-long deadlock between the Plaintiffs and the Governor to resolve the case.
“Governor Hogan’s public support for this legislation is significant and will help us see the settlement come to fruition,” said Dr. Earl Richardson, former President of Morgan State University. “It’s been a hard fight and we’ve had many hurdles to get us to this day. But we are pleased with how close we are to change.”
After Governor Hogan vetoed the HBCU legislation last year, the General Assembly put forward a bill this year that was nearly identical, and vowed to override Hogan if he vetoed it again. It unanimously passed the state Senate, and passed the Maryland House of Delegates by an overwhelming majority.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.
Kirkland & Ellis is an international law firm with approximately 2,900 attorneys representing clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, intellectual property, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, and restructuring matters. The Firm operates from offices in 15 cities around the world: Beijing, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington, D.C.