Maryland Judge Signs Landmark Settlement of HBCU Litigation

four Maryland HBCU’s will receive $555 million over the next decade to bolster their academic programs, financial aid offerings,
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(Annapolis, Md.) – U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake entered an order Wednesday finding that legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly and the settlement agreement between the parties in The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc., et al. vs. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et al, cured the constitutional violation she had found in 2013.

Under the legislation and agreement, which was negotiated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, four Maryland HBCU’s will receive $555 million over the next decade to bolster their academic programs, financial aid offerings, and faculty recruitment.

“This is a landmark settlement that will advance education equality across the state of Maryland and ensure these HBCUs have the funding and resources they need to be successful for years to come,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel and senior deputy director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who served as co-lead counsel in the case. “For far too long, Maryland’s higher education system disadvantaged students of color, and all students at the HBCUs. Today’s settlement will help bridge the racial divide in Maryland higher education and bring these valuable HBCUs the aid they deserve – on both the financial and programmatic fronts.”

The additional funding will be used by the HBCUs to fund the expansion and improvement of existing academic programs, develop and implement new academic programs, assist with faculty development and recruitment, provide greater scholarships and financial aid, and strengthen academic support programs. Maryland also is prohibited from using this funding as an excuse to limit, reduce, or otherwise negatively affect the HBCUs budget in the future.

“After over a decade of litigation, we are pleased that the court approved the settlement designed to fund the court’s historic remedial order,” said Michael Jones, partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, co-lead counsel in the case, which he handled pro bono. “The alumni of Maryland’s four HBCUS should be proud of their contribution to making this possible. When circumstances allow, we will have an appropriate celebration gathering for members of the Coalition.”

The settlement brings an official 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, which was filed in 2006 on behalf of students and alumni of Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The lawsuit argued that the state had fostered segregation and disadvantaged the HBCU's 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. In 2013, Judge Blake had found in Plaintiffs’ favor on the unnecessary duplication claim.

In March, the Maryland General Assembly passed an emergency appropriations bill that would provide the four HBCU’s $577 million in additional funding over the next 10 years. The agreement stated that Plaintiffs’ attorneys' fees and costs would be deducted from $577 million, which the parties later agreed amounted to $22 million consistent with the General Assembly’s fiscal note. But the release of the funds was contingent on the plaintiffs and the state of Maryland settling the case and the court finding that the Legislation and the settlement had cured the constitutional violation by June 1, 2021. The last step is for the Maryland Attorney General to transmit the court order and settlement agreement to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services by June 11, 2021.

“This is a significant step forward in the fight for equity and parity in Maryland higher education and, should be celebrated as a new beginning for Maryland HBCU’s statewide,” said David Burton, a Morgan State University alum and President of The Coalition of Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education. “Our coalition is glad to see this case finally come to an end, and we are excited to see what it can mean for Maryland HBCU students as we go forward.”

“This has been a long, hard-fought, but necessary battle for Maryland HBCUs,” said Dr. Earl Richardson, former President of Morgan State University. “It will go a long way in helping these universities overcome decades of neglect and increase their competitiveness among other public colleges and universities. Hopefully it will also lead to the program and policy changes that will make the Maryland public higher education system the envy of the academic community.”

Read the settlement agreement.

View the Maryland General Assembly’s emergency legislation.

Read the original lawsuit.

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