Tenure is tenuous at new college Court wipes faculty slate clean at New CCB, allows firings.

June 14, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

A federal judge has ruled that officials at the New Community College of Baltimore have the right to fire faculty members who were tenured when the state took over the institution from the city government.

Senior Judge Herbert F. Murray ruled Tuesday in U.S. District Court here that the legislation which created NCCB as a state college last July abolished the tenure rights of faculty members who had worked there when it was the Community College of Baltimore.

As a practical matter, Murray's decision means that tenured professors whose teaching skills are evaluated as "poor" by the new college administration will be fired by the official end of the current school year, June 30.

Others could be fired at various times until the end of the 1992-93 school year, when the college's current operating authority expires, even though they were evaluated as "fair," "good" or "excellent" in teaching skills.

The 10 faculty members who were plaintiffs in the class-action suit claimed that the dismissals of tenured faculty violated their constitutional rights to due process and contract rights which could not legally be abolished by the Maryland General Assembly.

The plaintiffs, some of whom had worked for CCB for more than 20 years as professors and department heads, claimed they had a contractual right to continued tenure, especially because the state hired all of them to teach at NCCB after the takeover.

Murray's decision directly affects 96 faculty members, some of whom already have left the college.

Attorney Joel A. Smith, who represented the plaintiffs, said, "The state took the position in open court that what it did at CCB, it could do almost at will at other [state] colleges. You can find in [Murray's] decision standards that can be applied at other colleges as well to overturn tenure."

Joseph G. Gardiner, a lead plaintiff in the case, said he was fired effective tomorrow as the result of a "poor" rating by the new administration despite his award-winning work at CCB since 1969.

"It's tantamount to losing everything you've worked for," said Gardiner, 58, of his loss of tenure, "and in my case I've got a poor rating that will follow me."

Gardiner sharply criticized the new rating system, charging that interim NCCB President James D. Tschechtelin arbitrarily changed--and improved--the ratings of some instructors he wanted to keep on the faculty but denied others, largely on the strength of ratings by students.

"One would think from the court's decision that the faculty was to blame for all CCB's troubles," Gardiner said. "But there's a definite public relations slant to it. We have had six presidents in 15 years, and everyone of them has taken a radically different course than his predecessors. That's the real problem."

Tschechtelin said his charge from Gov. William Donald Schaefer was to "create a successful community college here in Baltimore, and the legislature gave us the tools to accomplish that.

"I understand the disappointment to some people. But I have to focus on how we can build a college that is responsive to the community.

"If somebody comes to this college and works hard, and is creative and results oriented, they will stay. That's the people we want to have here. Is there a better way than tenure to support that? We believe there is," Tschechtelin said.

Murray ruled that the state takeover clearly destroyed faculty tenure protections created when the city managed the college.

"Modifications in the faculty's employment rights were necessary achieve the state's important public purpose of ensuring that Baltimore City has a community college that meets the needs of the students and the community at large," Murray said.

The attorney general's office, which defended the suit, claimed that CCB faced "a drastic decline in enrollment and significant increase in tuition fees" due to an aging curriculum that no longer met the needs of students in the city.

The state said many potential students regarded CCB as a school of last resort and looked elsewhere for education that would adequately prepare them for employment. That situation was particularly critical, the state lawyers said, in a city that has the highest unemployment rate in Maryland.

Murray also ruled that a new appeals system for dealing with the dismissals meets the legal standards necessary to comply with the Constitution's due-process clause.

That system was put into place after the plaintiffs obtained a preliminary injunction in December. The injunction was sought after the college administration told tenured employees they would have only six days to prepare for evidentiary hearings on their performance ratings and only two hours to appeal if they disagreed with the hearing panels' decisions.

Tschechtelin and Ron D. Wright, the college's vice president for academic affairs, have sought since last fall to fire some tenured faculty.

Tschechtelin's efforts are part of a three-year attempt to improve the college's faculty, curriculum and support staff. A recent report to the Maryland Higher Education Commission said college administrators are reviewing all positions at the college.

Appointed after the state takeover, Tschechtelin already has begun a reorganization that envisions massive curriculum changes and a building construction program at the college, which has campuses at the Inner Harbor and on Liberty Heights Avenue.

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