Amid non-alcoholic champagne toasts, fresh fruit and the congratulations of faculty, staff and advisory board members, officials of Carroll Community College equated yesterday the college's new autonomy with several historical fights for liberation.
"When we entered the [independence] process nine months ago, I thought of our situation as taxation without representation," said Executive Dean Joseph Shields. "When I met with our local delegation I found myself saying, 'Let my people go.'
"And now, I know I've been waiting to tell you, 'Free at last. Free at last. Thank God, Almighty, we're free at last.' "
The Maryland Higher Education Commission granted the school autonomy Wednesday at a meeting in Annapolis. The college, which officially becomes independent July 1, is the first community college formed since Worcester-Wicomico on the Eastern Shore in 1975.
Dr. Shields and about 70 others celebrated the college's independence from Catonsville Community College in a room where previous occupants had left banners hanging proclaiming Life. Liberty. Property." and "Benefit. Efficiency. Freedom."
The banners were merely a coincidence, but Dr. Shields said they expressed many of his sentiments.
"A year ago, the biggest challenge we thought ahead of us was getting the funds for the library," Dr. Shields said. The college learned several weeks ago it would get $3 million from the state to construct a new library on campus. The college has several more steps to take before they reach total autonomy, he said.
By July 1, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is to appoint a seven-member Board of Trustees that, in turn, will appoint the college's first president.
A committee from the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, the independent organization that accredits schools in the region, will visit the campus May 3 to 4 to determine whether the college may be a candidate for accreditation.
Carroll Community College will begin a yearlong self study in August for the Middle States Association. Dr. Shields said he hopes to have the results to the committee for evaluation at its December 1994 meeting.
All of this is much sooner than any of the college officials expected, Dr. Shields said. The college had planned to become independent by 1995 or 1996 until state Secretary of Higher Education Shaila R. Aery visited last July and suggested accelerating the process.
Barbara Charnock, president of the college's advisory board, said Carroll Community College can now concentrate on serving its own community without being governed by events that happen far away from its Washington Road campus.
"Now we will be able to work directly with our own county government which holds education in high regard instead of working with governments with whom we have little in common," said Barbara Charnock, chairwoman of the school's advisory board.
"The most important word in Carroll Community College is 'community,' because that's what we are all about," she said.
In addition to being able to govern themselves locally, Carroll Community College also will reap financial benefits. The college will be eligible for about $250,000 more in the next fiscal year than it would have gotten as a branch campus of the Baltimore County college.
"It [autonomy] will bring in a lot more money, and that will help develop a lot of the programs here," said Laura Carbo, a second-semester human services major.
Several students said they hoped money would be put into a sports program, cafeteria facilities, equipment and books for the new library.
The May 26 graduation ceremony will be the first Carroll Community College commencement to held in Carroll County.
This year's class will see the Carroll Community College seal next to Catonsville Community College's seal on their diplomas.