The wrong line for community colleges Baltimore County: Midnight buyout scramble is demeaning for veteran staff.

January 30, 1996

THE "PAPER CHASE" in academia customarily refers to the pursuit of a diploma by students. At Baltimore County's community colleges, it has a new meaning: faculty wanting to get job buyout pay were told last week to join a post-midnight race to be among the first in line to apply.

Only the first 50 applicants, regardless of specialty or seniority or age, would be accepted. Doors open at 12:30 a.m. Feb. 16 at Dundalk Community College, with processing beginning 6 1/2 hours later; first come, first served. No loitering around the campus earlier, either.

Under withering fire from elected officials, the college system yesterday backed off this demeaning treatment of its long-term, older professors and administrators. The administration said it plans to change the line-up sign-up announced by Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista.

Most of the 400 employees eligible for the buyout didn't complain publicly, for obvious reasons. Dr. LaVista will cut even more jobs, and make demotions, after the buyout.

Staff reductions are needed to help meet demands of a smaller budget. But this insensitive, imperious management style is unwarranted.

As a result, Dr. LaVista can expect serious trouble from county and state legislators, who control the purse strings. The sign-up scramble also displays a lack of executive judgment in determining which faculty members should retire.

Rationalizing the courses offered at three campuses, slashing the budget, restructuring administration, improving efficiencies -- these are formidable tasks handed the former Illinois college president by Baltimore County last summer. Changes do not come easy.

But there have been enough questionable early steps by the new administrator to raise public concerns about his managerial decisions. The quick hiring of his former associates, additions to the top layer of administration, and a costly nationwide search for a college publicist are among those decisions. So was the expropriation of $25,000 in computer equipment from classrooms for the home use of college trustees, who were later informed that they could not legally use closed-meeting cyber-communication to make official decisions.

The trustees may explain that they were simply giving the new chancellor his head. But they should also demand that he use it wisely.

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