For buyout, applicants must line up literally Balto. Co. community college employees otherwise face firing

January 27, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

For the nearly 400 professors and administrators offered a buyout at Baltimore County's community colleges, the race will go to the swiftest and the strongest.

To secure a spot in the buyout, eligible employees could face an overnight test of endurance -- showing up in Dundalk no earlier than 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 16 and remaining in line for more than six hours before applications are accepted at 7 a.m. Only the first 50 are guaranteed a buyout.

Those who do not make the list collected in a building at Dundalk Community College will face possible "dislocation," or termination, under the reorganization of the two-year colleges by Chancellor Dr. Daniel J. LaVista.

"This sounds like kids lining up early for tickets to a rock concert," said R. Robert Kreiser, an official of the American Association of University Professors. "This is an odd personnel decision, very strange."

A 60-year-old supervisor, who would not give her name for fear of retribution, added, "My children have offered to stand in for me. I can't stoop to this. It's dehumanizing and degrading."

Officials have refused to discuss how many employees will be fired from the system, which has about 70,000 full- and part-time students and is Maryland's largest.

But Vincent Coleianne, interim vice chancellor for administration, defended the Voluntary Separation Incentive, part of a larger plan to restore the community colleges' financial health. "Yes, we've had complaints, but one of our primary concerns was to be able to receive the applications in a fair and equitable method," he said yesterday.

He acknowledged that because of complaints "that we can count on one hand, we are looking at revising the plan." Dr. LaVista -- who signed off on the plan -- and others will study alternatives next week, he said.

Under the buyout plan, an employee whose age and years of service at the colleges total 70 can apply. Critics of the plan note that the formula affects mostly experienced, middle-age employees.

"The mood is despondent among lots of faculty and office workers," said Dr. James McGrath, professor of management at Essex. "The new order in Towson is so far removed from reality it's scary."

Dr. LaVista, hired last June to centralize services and cut costs at the two-year colleges in Dundalk, Catonsville and Essex, has come under fire from public officials for his $130,000 salary and personal perks, and for hiring former colleagues from the Midwest.

In another controversial move, eight members of the system's board of trustees were given expensive computers, printers and software that were originally purchased for students. Dr. LaVista later told trustees that they could not use the equipment to conduct board business because such actions would violate state law.

The chancellor also has announced a tuition increase for next year in light of dwindling enrollment, and many in the instructional and administrative ranks complain of a growing uncertainty on the campuses.

Dr. LaVista was not available yesterday for comment. But Mr. Coleianne said the chancellor agreed to the plan for the post-midnight application line and directed its implementation with input from the county attorney.

"I don't think anyone wants that scenario, but we hired LaVista to do a job," said Ronald G. Abe, chairman of the system's board of trustees. "We are looking at revising the plan that would have people standing in line like that."

Ed Sherwin, a former Essex department chair who lost his job in a disputed firing of nine professors and professional staffers in 1993, said the colleges are losing their connection to their communities.

"In Baltimore County, the high school enrollment is up, Towson State University's enrollment is up, Villa Julie College has expanded to a four-year degree, but the community colleges are losing dedicated people and students," said Mr. Sherwin, whose firing led the AAUP to censure Essex for disregarding the traditions of tenure and academic freedom.

Mr. Sherwin, now executive director of a food service association, said the post-midnight application plan was testimony "to the arrogance and disdain the chancellor and others have toward the faculty and staff who have devoted their lives and careers to serving the students at the schools."

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