Higher education's crisis is exaggeratedJoseph T. Durham...

SATURDAY MAIL BOX

February 03, 1996

Higher education's crisis is exaggerated

Joseph T. Durham painted an alarming picture of higher education in his Dec. 27 op-ed article. He said campus crime was being hushed up, institutions were secretly investing in (or taking money from) corporations that produced anti-social products and students were dropping out in alarming numbers.

Unfortunately, the picture is misleading, out-of-date and simplistic. Dr. Durham, who is a former president of the Community College of Baltimore and thus should have a better grasp of the issues and problems of post-secondary education, does a great disservice to institutions, students and the state.

He asserted that most institutions are silent about crime on or near campus. That is not true. Since 1992, all colleges have been required by federal law to compile annual statistics on campus crime and provide the information to students and employees.

Referring to the recent tragic killing of a Morgan State University student near the campus, Dr. Durham declares that once every ten days someone is killed near or on a college campus. But the same is probably true about most major hospitals and many churches with large congregations -- for the simple reason that many big churches and big hospitals, like colleges, tend to be located in cities where crime rates are higher.

In examining campus crime reports, the Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out that "most studies of campus crime show that colleges are safer than the communities around them," a fact overlooked by Dr. Durham, who seems intent on frightening students and their families.

He points to the furor over investments in South Africa stocks and student protests over colleges investing in companies that harmed the environment. Student activism, Dr. Durham says, resulted in changed investment policies once university boards realized that students had no intention of ending their protests until more socially responsible investment policies were adopted.

But then the professor crosses the line between fact and innuendo, asking -- in effect -- what other wrongs are being committed by trustees and regents. "How many institutions still hold stock in major tobacco firms?" he writes. Who is investing in companies that sell alcoholic beverages? Who is accepting money for scholarships?

Those are legitimate questions that Dr. Durham should pursue if he feels strongly enough about the issues, but it is unfair to tar all of higher education by implying that trustees and regents are still pouring money into unacceptable investments, especially when information about the investments of public institutions is available for the asking under Maryland's public information law.

Students drop out of college for many reasons. As a professor of education at Morgan State University and a former college president, Dr. Durham surely must know that many students drop out of college because they graduated from high school ill-equipped for college, because they cannot afford college or simply because they decide they do not want to continue. It is unfair to lay the blame entirely at the feet of higher education.

As for graduation rates among college athletes, he has not kept up with current events. The National Collegiate Athletic Association reported last year that graduation rates among athletes at Division I schools have increased steadily since the NCAA set higher admissions standards for athletes.

It all comes down to a simple question: is the glass half-full or half-empty? Dr. Durham contemplates certain aspects of higher education and concludes that the glass is half-empty. Mistakenly, he sees a public crisis of confidence.

The facts are otherwise. In truth, the glass is half-full and the level is rising.

!Patricia S. Florestano

Annapolis

The writer is Maryland's secretary of higher education.

Why Golf Corp. is good for Baltimore city

I was there at the beginning of the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. In 1984 I was internal consultant at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Chris Delaporte had just become Baltimore's director of parks and recreation.

One of his first actions was to require an accounting of the revenue and costs associated with each activity under his direction.

Among other things he learned that even without ''overhead,'' the city was losing more than $500,000 a year on its five golf courses. He took the news to Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

The mayor was quoted as saying, ''City taxpayers should not be subsidizing golfers.'' After touring the deteriorating courses and being told of the falling play, he asked Bernard Trueschler, then chairman of BGE, to look into the problem and advise him.

Mr. Trueschler formed a blue ribbon committee of local executives to develop an answer for the mayor. I was on that committee and wrote its report.

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