UM chancellor calls for revolt in academia

June 27, 1991|By Patricia Meisol

In a stinging criticism of higher education, University of Maryland System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg yesterday accused universities of sheltering bloated bureaucracies and maintaining smug resistance to change. On the occasion of his inauguration, he pledged to lead a revolution to revitalize them.

"In a swiftly evolving global society that waits for no institution to keep pace, we are in very real danger of becoming a historical anachronism, a bastion of arrogant irrelevance," he said in an inaugural speech. "Our self-satisfaction is exceeded only by our slowness to recognize" that universities have neglected students, puffed up their bureaucracies and ignored an international movement emphasizing quality and results, he said.

"If we were the bellwethers of change and progress we claim to be, we should have led that movement. Instead, like aristocrats in a decaying civilization, we contented ourselves with pontification from the sidelines," the chancellor said.

The 59-year-old physicist, formally installed as the second head of the 11-campus University of Maryland System, exhorted educators to respond to students as consumers, do away with red tape that dampens creativity, leave behind endless trails of memos and committees and "go for results." No organizational structure will be sacred, he said, promising to create new teams of academics across campuses to solve problems. And quality management will rule.

"Everyone, from clerical workers to faculty to institutional presidents, will be evaluated on the basis of the quality of their work," Dr. Langenberg said. "This is the most fundamental transformation that we must expect."

Maryland lawmakers and educators had long awaited the occasion to hear how the chancellor might implement his vision of the university system. But Dr. Langenberg yesterday stopped short of offering specific "how-tos" to fire the revolution and omitted any mention of money, a major issue in a university system pledged to quality but struggling to set spending priorities. His call for quality comes at a time when individual campuses are already being required by the Maryland Higher Education Commission to develop sophisticated accounting systems to tell the public how well they are doing when it comes to graduating students, stocking their libraries and keeping their best professors in the classroom.

But the chancellor's philosophy earned high marks from Judy Sachwald, an education aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who said it reflected a commitment to helping the state solve problems.

A special session of the General Assembly yesterday prevented Mr. Schaefer and state lawmakers from attending an academic rite whose origins date to the Middle Ages. But hundreds of academics, friends of the university and representatives of national higher education groups filled the Lyric Opera House in dTC Baltimore to wish the chancellor well.

Afterward, leaders of several public and private colleges said Dr. Langenberg's criticisms and call for revolution were on target. "It's what I have been feeling all along," said Dr. Errol L. Reese, president of the University of Maryland System's professional schools campus in Baltimore.

Others said there were no surprises. A senior faculty member at College Park, who said he did not wish to be identified with criticisms on a happy occasion, nonetheless faulted the chancellor's speech as one that offered "terrible criticisms but no solutions. I don't know what his vision is even yet."

John S. Toll, the longtime president of the University of Maryland who preceded Dr. Langenberg, said the chancellor's call-for-quality speech was excellent. "You always talk about the vision," he said. "You condemn the past and praise the future."

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