Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Rep. Albert R. Wynn marked Presidents' Day yesterday at the state's oldest historically black university with a call to expand diversity in higher education.

Speaking during a forum at Bowie State University, O'Malley (D) said diversity is "our greatest strength as a people." It is time for leaders to move beyond the "political mumbo jumbo," he said, and increase minorities' access to higher education.

"We may have indeed torn down the walls of segregation, but there are still so many walls to tear down in our hearts, in our habits and in what we choose and choose not to do," O'Malley told about 100 students, faculty members and guests.

Wynn (D-Md.) said it is important to "preserve and expand" the roles of the nation's historically black campuses in higher education.

Wynn called for the federal government to increase research funding for such schools, saying they receive 2 percent of research money.

"The research dollars go to the Stanfords and the Yales and the things like that," Wynn said. "We must get federal research dollars into historically black colleges like Bowie State."

In addition to speeches, the forum featured several student performances. The university gospel choir sang, and Colours, a performing arts troupe from Northwestern High School in Prince George's County, interpreted President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Former state senator Gloria G. Lawlah (D-Prince George's), who is O'Malley's nominee for secretary of aging, and Del. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's) also addressed the forum, saying diversity is important at all levels of society.

"Our students can and will succeed, there's no doubt in my mind, and they will take the place of each and every one of us sitting here today," Lawlah said. "And guess what? I'm looking forward to it."

O'Malley opened his remarks with a few jokes that solicited laughs from the predominantly African American audience. "Being the mayor of Baltimore, every month was Black History Month . . . and every month we had the opportunity to make history," O'Malley said.

But the governor spoke seriously about diversity. He said his generation and younger ones are continuing the struggles that defined the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

People are carrying that fight for "individual worth, individual rights, individual opportunities. That is a battle we have inherited," O'Malley said.

O'Malley listed several of his administration's education goals. He has frozen public college tuition for a year and committed $400 million to school construction, but he said more needs to be done.

"We have a lot of work in front of us, but we have a lot of worth in our state," O'Malley said.

As Miss Bowie State, Jessica Reed, 21, a senior psychology major from Clinton, emceed the forum. She said O'Malley's comments would help motivate her classmates.

"I think a lot of his poignant points are still relevant today," Reed said. "I think he really inspired us to go out and be more diverse in our daily interactions."