State Secretary of Higher Education Shaila R. Aery announced her resignation yesterday, effective June 1, clearing the path for Gov. Parris N. Glendening to fill the post.
Dr. Aery, 56, said the decision to leave was hers alone, first made in the fall, when she sold her house in Annapolis.
"I have been a state higher education official for the last 12 years," said Dr. Aery. "These are really tough jobs. You are always between the institutions and the legislature."
"I'm not surprised," Towson State University President Hoke L. Smith said of Dr. Aery's decision. "For her to really be effective, she would have to have a close relationship with the governor."
Although she was not asked to resign and cannot be fired by the governor, Dr. Aery did not have ties with Mr. Glendening, but with his predecessor.
William Donald Schaefer brought her to Maryland in an effort to make public colleges here more like those in a state such as North Carolina, fostering economic development while attracting national attention.
A spokesman for Mr. Glendening, Charles Porcari, said, "We certainly wish her well and will likely begin a search process immediately to assure continuity in the office." Under law, the higher education commission makes nominations to the governor, who then makes an appointment.
A folksy academic administrator from Oklahoma, Dr. Aery was higher education secretary in Missouri for six years. She said she did not know what she would do after stepping down. Dr. Aery and the state superintendent of schools, Nancy S. Grasmick, hold the only two Maryland Cabinet posts reporting to boards rather than directly to the governor. By Friday, Mr. Glendening is expected to appoint two new members of the Higher Education Commission, the board that hires the secretary.
Dr Aery cited two areas of concrete progress during her years in office: the passage of a 1991 measure raising the level of financial aid for students; and increasing enrollment at the state's public campuses by 10,000.
Dr. Aery was the first person to hold the secretary's post, which was created along with the Maryland Higher Education Commission in July 1988. The commission not only oversees the public university system, but also regulates the state's community colleges and private campuses.
The 1988 structure created a struggle for authority among the commission, the university system's regents and the presidents of individual campuses.
Mr. Glendening, an adjunct public policy professor at University of Maryland College Park, has spoken of giving campuses more autonomy, but he has not offered a specific higher education agenda.
Also growing out of the 1988 effort to improve higher education, the General Assembly approved a sharp increase in funding for the system.
A smooth politician, Dr. Aery was given much of the credit for trying to sustain that initiative. By 1990, however, the recession had forced a significant reduction in funding and large increases in tuition.