The U.S. Department of Education and the state of Maryland agreed today on a five-year desegregation plan for the state colleges and universities, ending a 16-year-old conflict over Maryland's efforts to integrate its 28 public institutions of higher learning.
The agreement, signed in U.S. District Court, sets in motion a plan to achieve goals that would increase black enrollment at predominantly white colleges from 11 to 15 percent and white enrollment on predominantly black campuses to 19 percent. In 1982, the most recent year for which figures are available, white enrollment was 9 percent at the state-funded black schools.
The agreement also calls for $75 million to be spent to improve programs and facilities at the state's four traditionally black institutions, and officials hope this will encourage more whites to enroll.
Implementation is to begin immediately after the plan is formally signed, in about a month.
"I'm very pleased we've reached agreement," said Sheldon H. Knorr, state Commissioner for Higher Education. "I'm glad it's over."
Agreement between the state and federal governments came after weeks of negotiations over what form the desegregation plan should take. Both sides had agreed about a month ago on the substance of the plan, but they could not agree on whether it should be sanctioned in a legally binding document, such as a consent decree.
The agreement approved today is a "stipulation of dismissal," which binds both sides to follow the plan and closes a 9-year-old lawsuit the state had filed to prevent the federal government from cutting off education funds over the desegregation issue. The conflict began in 1969, when the federal government notified Maryland and several other states that they must further desegregate their higher education systems.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward S. Northrop denied the state's request to make permanent the injunction he granted in that suit. Instead, he chastised the state and the Department of Education, which was represented by the Department of Justice. "You're fighting over semantics," he said at one point, urging the sides to comes to an agreement and implement the plan.
After a day-long hearing, the two sides agreed to approve the desegregation proposal. Harry M. Singleton, assistant secretary of education for civil rights, and Knorr signed the dismissal statement on the spot.
"I thought it was unnecessary," Singleton said of the conditions in the agreement. "But we've broken the log jam. If they follow it, it should produce results."
Attorneys for the state said the agreement contained the provisions they had been seeking in the past weeks of negotiations. The agreement provides that federal funding cannot be cut off from an entire state system if only one educational program is out of compliance with desegregation requirements.
The desegregation plans commits the state to increase enrollment of whites at traditionally black colleges to 19 percent by 1989. In 1982, white enrollment was 9 percent at the state-funded black schools -- Coppin State and Bowie State colleges, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
State officials say although they have been without a federally approved desegregation plan, they have voluntarily implemented their own plan over the past five years.
"We're committed to equal opportunity," said Knorr. The most recent standstill with the Department of Education "wasn't a matter of substance, it was a matter of process . . . . Now we can do what really should have been done all along."