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Md. case on historically black schools closes

Friday - 10/19/2012, 5:39pm  ET

BALTIMORE - Lawyers for the state of Maryland and for a group of students and alumni of Maryland's four historically black universities sparred Friday over whether the state has successfully dismantled segregation-era policies that disadvantaged the schools.

The lawsuit, which was filed in in 2006, argues that Maryland has failed to change policies and practices that have marginalized historically black institutions. Friday's closing arguments were the final time lawyers were scheduled to address the judge in the case after six weeks of testimony earlier this year.

On Friday, a lawyer for the group bringing the case, The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, talked about continuing disadvantages, including unnecessary duplication of programs at competing schools and funding disparities.

Attorney Michael Jones said the state's historically black schools lag behind traditionally white schools with respect to selectivity, graduation rates, faculty salary and library holdings. And he pointed to inadequate facilities on historically black university campuses including several science buildings, one constructed in the 1950s or 1960s.

A lawyer for the state of Maryland, Craig Thompson, said in response that the state agrees historically black universities were once treated unequally. But he said that "horrible" and "tragic" era of segregation is the past.

"It was an embarrassing stain on this country's history," Thompson said of the era, adding that Maryland is not trying to forget that history. "Maryland's defense in this case has been to suggest that it has eliminated the policies of that history, or of that era, and we're moving forward."

Thompson said there was no evidence that the current and former students bringing the case were hurt by attending historically black schools. He said they had gone on to successful careers and specifically chosen historically black colleges over other options.

Maryland's four historically black colleges are Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. As of 2009, African-American enrollment in each of the schools was higher than 75 percent, and African-American enrollment at Morgan State was higher than 90 percent.

Since the case began in federal court in Baltimore in January, both sides have submitted extensive documents to U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake, who is hearing the case. She did not say Friday when she would have a decision.

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