Segregation, state's neglect at heart of Coppin's 'mess'

Coppin State University is a mess ("Tough love for Coppin," May 19)? The "mess" that Coppin confronts stems mainly from continuing vestiges of de jure segregation that it and the three other Maryland historically black colleges and universities still face. Add neglect to the mix. The University System of Maryland, the facilitator of the Special Committee Report examining Coppin, is part of a system that remains responsible for these vestiges.

Nowhere will you find the term "disparities" or the phrase "comparable and competitive disparities" (compared with Maryland's traditionally white institutions) in this report.

Comparable and competitive disparities are descriptions plaintiffs' lawyers' use in the lawsuit, The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education v. Maryland's Higher Education Commission, as well as those used by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights against Maryland. Defendants are the University System and the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Fordice is the lawsuit's basis.

Through using dubious time frames, accounting methods and statistics, the state claims that no disparities now exist; Coppin received more than any other public university. Furthermore, it says that Coppin is culpable for any of its resource shortfalls. Why? The argument goes that Coppin's failure to address low retention and graduation rates and campus inefficiencies enhance the problem.

The system and the state see no relationship between Coppin's underfunding dating back to before the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and Coppin's performance. It claims no culpability in its failure to provide oversight to identify and help fix inefficiencies. It denies liability. The USM knew about many recommendations made in the Special Report for years. Now they are passed off as new revelations.

The Sun's editorial notes that the "committee was stacked with Coppin alumni, faculty and staff" to give creditability to the report's accuracy. The lawsuit plaintiffs represent alumni and students. They represent thousands. Add university faculty and staff. Add working class students, who might be blocked from entering Coppin because their crime is attending an inferior, second-class school system. Add Maryland taxpayers who know the real story. Add taxpayers who are learning the real story — no thanks to the Sun. Redirect the tough love.

Kenneth O. Morgan, Baltimore

The writer is an assistant professor of urban studies at Coppin State University.