The University of Maryland must almost double its black enrollment by next fall to fulfill its promise to the federal government to have between 12 percent and 16 percent black undergraduates on campus by 1980.
Even so, the number of blacks among the 30,000 students on the College Park campus fell last year by 100 -- to 2,100 -- and the prospects of meeting the goal are dim, officials say.
University Chancellor Robert L. Gluckstern called the goals "unreasonably high" and said, "They were set with the expectation that black colleges would decrease their black enrollments while we were increasing ours. But that hasn't happened."
There are two views of why the University of Maryland -- 22 years after it admitted its first black student -- has never had more than 7.5 percent blacks among its undergraduates, even though the state is nearly 20 percent black.
Ken Morgan, director of the campus minority recruitment office, takes the view that the university is seen as inhospitable to blacks. "The University of Maryland has a poor image within the black community. Students have bad experiences here, experiences they feel stem from racism, and they go back home and tell their friends that this isn't the place to come to."
Gluckstern disputed this, however, saying, "The institution is a reasonably supportive environment for minorities, despite perceptions among some that it isn't. We do indeed work hard to make College Park available and hospitable to blacks."
At stake for the university is a major share of nearly $65 million in aid to Maryland colleges the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare threatened to cut off in 1975 when it claimed that desegregation was occurring too slowly.
The threat, which came only a year after the university received federal approval of its desegregation plan, was blocked when state officials won a temporary injunction from a federal judge preventing the department from cutting off funds.
The complicated case, which has wound its way through appeals courts, remains unresolved. HEW is unable to take any action against the university as long as the court order is in force. It has also prevented the department from taking action to impose the more stringent desegregation rules on Maryland that it has on some other states.
More disturbing to most university officials than the institution's image among black high school students is its difficulty in keeping blacks in school once they have enrolled.
The dropout rate for black students is 12 percent, three times the rate for whites.
When blacks are asked to explain this phenomenon, they relate stories like this:
One black woman dropped out of the university's premedical program midway through her second year. Her failure at College Park surprised her family, friends, and even more so, officials at the university. She had won national scholastic honors in high school and had been recruited to attend classes at College Park.
During her first semester at Maryland, she says, she was assaulted on campus and the experience disturbed her until she found it difficult to concentrate on her work. But what she says happened during her second year, while she wrestled with the after-math of the assault, is a story black students relate with sympathy and outrage.
Faced with failing grades, she turned to her department chairman for advice.
"You know what he told me?" she said. "He said, 'Some people would like to be astronauts, but not everyone is capable of it.' He was telling me I wasn't smart enough to be a doctor, I think if I were white, he wouldn't have said that.'
Incidents like that, said J. Muruku Waiguchu, director of the office of minority student education, have created a "perceived undercurrent of racism" among the campus' black students.
Murray E. Polakoff, provost for the division of behavioral and social sciences at College Park, said a "perception can be as dangerous as a reality." "I've heard black students say the university is racist, but what it boils down to is a perception -- a perception that is both intangible and very subtle. There's just no easy way to alter what people believe to be true," Polakoff said.
A 1978 report prepared by the university says that "either admission standards are not effectively sorting out the qualified from the unqualified or something is happening on campus that results in poor performance on the part of many black students."
Admission standards, based on high school grades and entrance examination scores, are the same standards by which white students are judged, according to university officials.
And in line with the Supreme Court's decision in the Alan Bakke case, which judged illegal the use of admission quotas to meet higher education desegregation goals, the university reserves no places in its freshman class exclusively for minorities.
Many black students and administrators say that the academic problems black students face at College Park are the result of something that is happening once students begin taking classes.
Buzz words like "alienation" and "disillusionment" are often used to describe the mood among blacks on campus. That mood, many say, is the reason some blacks perform more poorly in their school work than whites.
"This is primarily a white institution, run by whites for whites," said Howard Mason, a 22-year-old finance major who transferred to Maryland from a school in New York. "When I first got here, I was so busy trying to deal with that, that I couldn't keep up with my school work. And I was on academic probation my first semester."
Another view of the problem is that expressed by Frank Kerr, the acting head of the campus' department of mathematics, physical sciences and engineering. He attributed the high black dropout rate, in part, to weaker academic backgrounds they bring from high school.
"On the average, they tend to come in with less preparation," Kerr said. "And I suppose they feel a bit lonely. After all, there are so few of them about."
Mason, like other new arrivals at the sprawling College Park campus in Prince George's County, was, in fact, lonely. It was difficult for him to meet other students and particularly difficult for him to meet other blacks. His classes were predominantly white, his teachers were white, and there were few places where he could informally mix with other blacks. He soon discovered the Student Union Building.
The centrally located facility is the hub of black social life on campus.
"The union is where we go to meet each other," Mason said. "We just talk and hang out. There are so few of us, there really is no where else to go."
The scene there on most afternoons is not unlike a moveable feast. Large groups of black students, their number swelling as the afternoon wears on, meet each other with hand slaps and greetings.
The comforts they find in one another at the Student Union are not available elsewhere at the university, some say. Many black students say there are not enough black teachers and not enough interest in black activities.
"We need advisers and people who understand us," said Denise Montgomery, a 21-year-old black senior. "Black professors usually come from our neighborhoods and sometimes went through the same things we did. They understand that blacks at the university aren't the same as whites."
The shortage of black faculty is not only a perception of black students, it is also statistical reality that has been another sore spot in the university's affirmative action program.
Included in the federally approved 1974 desegregation plan for College Park was a goal to raise the percentage of black faculty from about 3 percent to 6 percent, a figure that matched the number of blacks in doctoral programs across the country.
That year, there were 57 black professors and instructors teaching classes at College Park. Despite an increase by 1976 to 61, the number of faculty positions held by blacks dropped back to 57 -- 3 percent -- last year, as compared to 1,771 teachers who were white.
In an attempt to improve the environment for university blacks, an expensive and much criticized minority bureaucracy has evolved. Since 1970, the combined budget for the three offices that deal with minority recruitment, advisement and overall monitoring of the university's desegregation effort has mushroomed from about $400,000 to more than $1.6 million.
Most of that increase came after the 1975 federal challenge to the university's desegregation plan.
Black students have criticized the campus' minority offices as being too ensnarled in red tape to be able to deal with their problems. And some see the offices as part of an attempt to assimilate them into white society.
"They're trying to pull me into the mainstream, even though the mainstream may not be what I want," said one black undergraduate.
Blacks often choose to eat at separate tables in the campus dining halls and mix primarily with other blacks in the lounges and recreation areas of the university's dormitories.
White students are often bewildred by the attitude many blacks take toward them.
"Blacks seem to think they're special," said Robert Egle, a senior at the university. "But whites have plenty of the same problems. It's no fun for anyone to come to a campus this big. It's unfriendly and impersonal toward everyone."
Sometimes, white students angrily criticize blacks for voluntarily keeping separate from them.
"I hear a lot of complaints about discrimination and segregation," said one white student in a campus dining hall. "But blacks always sit over there by themselves. They build walls everywhere they go and won't let anyone but other blacks by."
Blacks are quick to attack that attitude among some white students, saying it is insensitive to their plight.