Never has there been a more important conversation about Maryland higher education than the conversation surrounding the recent ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake against unnecessary academic program duplication. In her ruling, the judge identifies the harm Maryland has done to its Historically Black Institutions (HBIs) by its unlawful practice and outlines several strategies for addressing it. Those strategies include enhancing existing programs, establishing new, unique and high demand programs, transferring duplicated programs back to HBIs, and creating program collaborations that enhance academic offerings at HBIs.
Judge Blake’s already famous ruling has ignited a spirited discussion of whether or not Maryland will come to grips with its legal responsibility to eliminate its segregated system of higher education or seek instead, again, to explain it away. Will state officials continue to simply make superficial changes of little or no effect, or will they have the moral courage to create a more rational system of public colleges and universities?
Most importantly, will state officials realize that while the court ruling provides an opportunity to address the harm done for many decades to Historically Black Institutions and their students, it also provides an extraordinary opportunity for redesigning the whole of higher education consistent with the demographic, fiscal, technological and legal imperatives of this century and beyond?
The current system of higher education is not the product of rational state planning. Most of the major decisions made by the state that have been the result of these non-educational factors have become today’s constraints and problems. And decisions made over the last two decades have had the effect of compounding, rather than minimizing, the impact of these problems.