A U.S. District Court judge ruled recently that the State of Maryland and the Maryland Higher Education Commission failed to desegregate the State’s system of higher education as required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The lawsuit, filed by a coalition of current and former students of four Maryland historically black institutions (HBIs), claimed that the State did not meet its obligation to desegregate the higher education system by applying an inequitable funding formula, limiting HBIs’ missions, and unnecessarily duplicating unique, high-demand programs. The ruling may have implications for other states with similar obligations to desegregate their public higher education systems.

The court found that the State’s funding formula and its role in developing the HBIs’ missions were permissible as neither is traceable to de jure-era policies and practices. It held, however, that the State had permitted traditionally white institutions (TWIs) to duplicate unique, high-demand programs that historically have drawn white students to attend HBIs. In some instances, TWIs were allowed to create unique programs that duplicated programs at nearby HBIs.

The court relied upon data that showed enrollment in these programs at HBIs sometimes dropped following the establishment of similar programs at TWIs. The court also recognized that in some instances, unique programs at TWIs were duplicated at other TWIs; however, it found that such duplication more significantly affected HBIs.

The court applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis in United States v. Fordice, a case that established the standards for determining whether states have dismantled racially segregated higher education systems and their vestiges. Citing Fordice, the court held that Maryland’s duplication of unique, high-demand programs was traceable to de jure-era policies and practices and further found that the state has not dismantled this practice or provided educational justification for its failure to do so.

Though the court makes clear that remedies will be required, it “strongly suggests” that the parties participate in mediation to resolve the issue. Some possible solutions recommended by the court include establishing unique, high-demand programs at HBIs such as Green Sustainability Studies and Healthcare Facilities Management, as well as transferring or merging select or high-demand programs from TWIs to HBIs.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Higher Education Group advise institutions on issues related to compliance with Title VI and other statutes governing civil rights in higher education. For more information on this decision and its implications, please contact Olabisi Ladeji Okubadejo at 410.528.5532 or okubadejoo@ballardspahr.com.



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