A 'sense of cause' and its effects Tschechtelin: Baltimore City Community College's president was expected to be a transitional figure, but he's made the transition to a long-standing mission.

The Education Beat

April 07, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

When James D. Tschechtelin became president of Baltimore City Community College in 1990, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer told him it would be for a couple of years, until the dust cleared from the state's takeover of Baltimore's largest public college.

Two years later, Dr. Tschechtelin signed a four-year contract, and the school's trustees recently renewed the pact until July 2000. "When you took the job," a friend told Dr. Tschechtelin, "we thought you'd have the life expectancy of a first lieutenant on the beach at Guadalcanal."

Indeed, it has not been easy. Dr. Tschechtelin and his trustees eliminated faculty tenure -- lifetime job protection. He fired a number of poorly performing teachers and administrators, several of whom sued unsuccessfully. A well-organized drive to remove him from his $111,000-a-year job prompted Dr. Tschechtelin to post guards outside his office on the Liberty Heights Avenue campus.

The BCCC president, 53, was interviewed in that office last week. Only a few yards away, the college's first major new structure in 20 years, an $18.5 million state-of-the-art life sciences building, was under construction.

How has the relationship with the state worked out?

At the widest, broadest level, it saved the college, because Baltimore couldn't afford to provide a quality college and would eventually have had to close it.

But as for operating funds, as they say in politics, timing is everything. The state took over in July of 1990, and that fall was the beginning of the recession. If you look at our 1997 budget, you'll see enrollment is up 25 percent since 1991, while state operating aid is up 3 percent.

To make up for that, we've had to increase tuition 40 percent in the last three years. It's now $52 a credit hour or about $1,560 a year for a full-time student. That's a lot when you consider that 36 percent of our students have household incomes under $10,000. But it's still the most affordable college tuition in the state.

We won't be true to our mission if tuition keeps going up this way. Half of our students are on financial aid already.

There's been much discussion over the years over your downtown Harbor Campus. What's the current status?

There are two parcels downtown, about five acres altogether. The Bard building and Holocaust Memorial on Lombard will stay there. The state told us when they took over that they wanted us to maximize the commercial potential of the other parcel on Pratt, the Lockwood building. We're moving out now in preparation for razing, and we'll probably build an academic building with parking on the top floors.

There are no plans to leave the Inner Harbor. About 56 percent of our enrollment takes classes exclusively at the Liberty campus, 33 percent divide their time between the campuses and the rest are exclusively downtown.

How is your radio station doing?

WBJC's a great success story. Marketers talk about a marketing niche, and WBJC has found it. It's not running a deficit, thanks to generous listeners.

There's talk about eliminating remedial programs at the college level. Wouldn't that have a profound effect at your school?

It surely would! We have to place more than 70 percent of our recent high school graduates in remedial math and English courses. The Maryland community college average is 47 percent, and the University of Maryland average is 20 percent.

From a public policy standpoint, what are we saying if we don't do remediation anymore? In our throw-away society, you can have throw-away cameras and throw-away shavers, but the people are here. We can't throw them away.

Bishop Robinson, the state's corrections secretary, is on our board, and he reminds us that half the people in his care are from one subdivision, this one. It costs $25,532 per inmate per year in his care and $3,766 per student in my care. So when people complain that we're spending all that money on remediation, I ask them, what's the alternative?

Is the faculty still angry about the state takeover and abolition of tenure?

Many who were here in 1990 would rather have tenure back. That's just an honest statement. No one likes to give anything up. Of about 116 faculty in 1990, about half are still with us. We've created a "one, two, three" system of contracts. A new faculty member gets a one-year contract. If she or he is OK, they get a two-year contract. If they're OK after those two years, there's a series of three-year rolling contracts. So far it's working well.

We heard that the criticism of you got so intense a year or so ago that you almost quit. How hard has it been?

Every college president has some good days and some bad days, and there were some bad days, there were some bad days. But this job is a labor of love for me. I'm not looking for a job someplace else. And so, in those tough times, I think that sense of cause kept me going. Ample evidence to the contrary, handwriting is not dead. Latia Branch, a fifth-grader at Harford Heights Elementary School in Baltimore, has won the Maryland state handwriting contest and is now competing against 90,000 fellow students for the national title.

"Penmanship," the word, is dead, a victim of political correctness.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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