Md. higher education chief set

June 08, 1995|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. Parris N. Glendening turned yesterday to a trusted adviser and former University of Maryland administrator to oversee the state's colleges and universities, appointing Patricia Florestano as higher education commissioner.

During remarks introducing Dr. Florestano at a morning news conference, the governor promised modest budget increases for higher education and a stop to the "roller-coaster budgets" of the past decade.

By naming Dr. Florestano, a longtime faculty member and administrator within the University of Maryland System, Mr. Glendening moved to ease tensions between the state Higher Education Commission and the University of Maryland campuses and board of regents. The governor and his appointee have known each other for nearly three decades -- the governor was Dr. Florestano's adviser on her master's thesis in 1968 at the University of Maryland College Park.

But some state legislators suggested that an insider was the wrong person for the job. State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the powerful Committee on Budget and Taxation, vigorously opposed the selection because Dr. Florestano is closely identified with two campuses, College Park and the University of Baltimore.

"I'm disappointed that the governor took a parochial view," said Ms. Hoffman. "This is a position that really cries out for an outsider, because the secretary has a lot of authority and is responsible for all higher education, not solely the University of Maryland System."

Dr. Florestano replaces Shaila R. Aery, whose resignation was effective June 1. She will formally assume office later this month.

Sources said Dr. Florestano insisted upon retaining her tenured position at the Schaefer Center of the University of Baltimore to accept the secretary's job, a move that was criticized by Ms. Hoffman and some Maryland educators. She is on leave from the $62,000 post while serving as education secretary. The leave would be reviewed annually, a spokesman for the University of Baltimore said.

That's not the way Dr. Florestano's new boss handled the question of his professorship. According to Jonathan Wilkenfeld, chairman of the government and politics department at UMCP, Mr. Glendening resigned his position on the faculty there when he was inaugurated in January.

"There was a ruling that he could not remain on the faculty even on leave," Dr. Wilkenfeld said. "That's because it could create too many conflicts of interest."

Dr. Florestano defended herself by pointing to her family's varied involvement with Maryland campuses to say she would not be biased in her approach.

"The irony is that I got three degrees from College Park, my husband was president of Anne Arundel County Community College, my daughter is a graduate of Loyola [College], my son attended Washington College and graduated from University College -- so where do I have allegiances?"

Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the legislature when it returns next winter. "If they want to question me about it or make an issue out of it, I'll probably go to the [state] ethics commission then," she said. "I'm assuming that six months ought to let me establish my credentials."

Dr. Florestano said she favored continuation of a program that subsidized the education of students at Maryland's private campuses, and would seek to pursue new means of instruction, including the broadcast of some lectures.

Both the governor and his new Cabinet secretary noted that the recession of the early 1990s stripped the state's public campuses of millions of expected dollars that have not returned.

But Dr. Florestano said she would fight for more funds. "When Michigan and Texas went through tough times, their legislatures used to go out of its way to protect higher education," she said. "That's not the case in Maryland."

Dr. Florestano said she was initially wary about accepting the secretary's position.

She said she found teaching -- particularly the midcareer students who make up a large part of University of Baltimore's student body -- has been a rewarding experience. As secretary of higher education, "I could do good, but there's also a capacity for me to fall on my face," she said. But she said Mr. Glendening's presence overcame that reluctance.

Dr. Florestano is thoroughly a product of the University of Maryland: She earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees College Park. She has taught public administration on that campus and at the University of Baltimore, and she has worked as the University of Maryland System's chief lobbyist.

Dr. Florestano was one of three finalists in what officials termed a national search. Quentin R. Lawson, chairman of the higher education commission, said the panel received 70 applications and interviewed 10 people for the job.

But state officials knowledgeable about the process said the position was clearly designated for Dr. Florestano, a longtime counselor to Mr. Glendening who advised him on his gubernatorial campaign.

The other finalists were Robert K. Poch, associate commissioner for external affairs for the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, and Darryl G. Greer, the executive director of the New Jersey State College Governing Boards Association.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission is the coordinating board that sets general policy for the state's 57 public and private campuses. The secretary is a member of the governor's Cabinet and chief executive administrator of the commission.

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