The Maryland Higher Education Commission denied approval to the Johns Hopkins University and Stevenson University for a Ph.D. program in physical therapy, which an advocacy group for historically Black colleges and universities said would have duplicated an existing program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Maryland HBCU Advocates said it was pleased with the commission’s decision.

“In our opinion, the action taken by the nearly new Commission speaks well of their interpretation of the MHEC regulations,” the group said in a prepared statement. “The MHEC Commissioners recognized demonstrable harm could come to UMES if an immense, world renowned, private university such as Johns Hopkins University or Stevenson University is granted the authority to duplicate the PhD in Physical Therapy Program held at UMES.”

The group initially challenged the proposed Ph.D. physical therapy program at Stevenson University, saying it is a duplicate of a program offered by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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“Stevenson appreciates the opportunity to present our perspectives to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. While we had hoped for a different outcome, we respect the Commission’s decision. Going forward, we will continue to work with our higher education colleagues throughout the state to support Maryland’s students,” said John Buettner, vice president of marketing and digital communications for Stevenson University.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the Johns Hopkins University could not immediately be reached for comment.

When it came to Johns Hopkins, Maryland HBCU Advocates said that despite the university being about 100 miles away from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a duplicate of a doctoral program could do detrimental harm to the HBCU.

“They do not have the resources to compete with Johns Hopkins University,” said spokeswoman Sharon Blake, adding that this was in part because of historic underfunding of HBCUs. “That was our concern as advocates. Duplications can take place if it does not do demonstrative harm. Granting Johns Hopkins that program could possibly set up UMES to close their program. They may not have faculty to continue.”

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Maryland HBCU Advocates previously challenged a proposal for a doctoral program in business analytics at Towson University that it claims would have duplicated a business administration program at Morgan State University. (In late August, Towson said in a statement it intends to submit a reworked proposal for the program.)

The group has called for a moratorium on MHEC’s granting of programs and reviewing of program applications until a work group of the Maryland General Assembly releases recommendations in December.

MHEC issued a memo in July to pause any proceedings on contested academic programs until the recommendations are released, but according to Rhonda Wardlaw, the commission’s director of communications, the “pause is voluntary and solely within the discretion of the entity proposing the new program.”

Maryland HBCU Advocates is not currently aware of any other proposals that pose a potential duplication with programs currently offered at Maryland HBCUs, according to Blake.

“We’re going to continue to keep our ears and eyes open. We want to be able to dialogue with the workgroup and how it is progressing, and offer input for the work that they are doing,” Blake said. “We’re going to continue to make sure that the HBCUs in Maryland are being treated fairly and are able to be competitive.”

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The MHEC’s next meeting is Oct. 25.

Maryland HBCU Advocates’ work comes on the heels of a 2021 federal ruling that Maryland had to pay $577 million to its four historically Black colleges and universities, settling a 13-year lawsuit alleging that the state underfunded those schools while investing in predominantly white schools.

This week, the Biden administration sent letters to the governors of 16 states — including Maryland — saying that historically Black land-grant universities have missed out on $12.6 billion in funding over the last three decades.

The letter said the largest disparity was in Tennessee, where Tennessee State University has been underfunded by $2.1 billion dollars. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore has been underfunded by more than $321 million.

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years.

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