No Time for an Insider

April 24, 1995

There is no more delicate position in Maryland higher education than state secretary. The role requires a true diplomat and visionary. It requires a leader without ego, one who seeks consensus without playing favorites. And it requires someone who doesn't come to the job with vested interests.

For all these reasons, Gov. Parris N. Glendening should not select an insider to fill the post of higher education secretary when incumbent Shaila R. Aery leaves in June. In fact, he ought to use Ms. Aery as a standard for selecting a new secretary. She performed admirably in a difficult job.

During Ms. Aery's six years, student financial aid tripled, modest restructuring on campuses commenced, campus missions were

fine-tuned and coordination among the diverse and feuding sectors -- private colleges, quasi-public colleges, community colleges, technical schools and four-year public colleges -- improved.

None of this would have been possible had Ms. Aery come from inside Maryland's intensely charged higher education circle that often resembles a feudal war, with each institution maneuvering to hold onto its turf. But because Ms. Aery came from a similar higher education post in Missouri, she was welcomed as an impartial arbiter without preconceived notions of which schools should benefit most from the state's largess.

Maryland is stuck with a bifurcated, cumbersome structure. The University of Maryland's board of regents and its chancellor run the powerful UM campuses, but the board must answer to the Maryland Higher Education Commission and its secretary. In turn, the MHEC and its secretary supervise public colleges outside the UM orbit (Morgan State and St. Mary's), private and community colleges, proprietary schools and the state's scholarship program. It also sets campus missions and charts an overall course for higher education.

Tension between the two boards is inevitable. Unfortunately, the fTC lines of authority are so blurred that any progress has been agonizingly slow.

Picking an insider to serve as secretary would reignite old feuds and turn the higher education scene into a powder keg. Before long, aggrieved campuses would turn to friendly legislators for help, sparking more bitter squabbling. That's the last thing the governor should want. It would mean more years of strife in higher education.

If Governor Glendening is sincere in wanting to catapult Maryland's public colleges into the nation's top ranks, he should not choose an insider for secretary of higher education. It would be a major misstep. An experienced educator from beyond this state's borders would have a far greater chance of success. The idea should be to defuse political in-fighting -- not to provoke a new round of angry turf battles.

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