Board seeks to oust chief of Jr. colleges Baltimore Co. panel works behind scenes to remove LaVista

System dogged by conflict

Chancellor's pro-faculty stance irks some members

December 20, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Amid an unprecedented uprising by faculty at Baltimore County's three community colleges, members of the system's board are engaged in behind-the-scenes discussions to remove controversial Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista.

Several board members told The Sun that LaVista -- hired in September 1995 to the craft a unified system -- has angered the 10-member board with some of his decisions and by partly backing faculty members who are demanding the board's resignation.

"One plan already discussed is to have LaVista gone by June," said a board member who requested anonymity. "He has not worked with us and should not be siding with the faculty. He has not served us well."

Said another: "Dan's a bright, hard-working guy, but he just hasn't fit in as we thought he would. This is a very difficult time for everybody at the colleges."

LaVista declined to comment yesterday.

His contract with the board runs through September 1999. But board members say that LaVista's pact -- which includes a $130,000 annual salary, $2,500 monthly housing allowance, late-model Buick and other perks -- could be bought out for $100,000.

At a board meeting in September, Chairman Bruce J. Chaillou commended LaVista. "Through Dr. LaVista's leadership, the colleges can look forward to another successful year of reorganization," Chaillou said. This week, Chaillou declined to comment on the discussions about removing the chancellor.

Maryland's largest community college system -- serving about 70,000 full- and part-time students at Catonsville, Essex and Dundalk -- has been dogged by controversy and conflict.

While the second phase of the reorganization continues, administrators and professors wrestle with a dwindling enrollment, dramatically changing demographics and growing demands for remedial work for incoming high school graduates. Students complain of decades-old lab equipment and insufficient materials.

Privately, board members say they were embarrassed by LaVista's plan last winter to require senior administrators vying for a buyout to line up after midnight and stand outside for nearly seven hours to qualify. That plan was rescinded.

Criticism was directed at the board last winter when LaVista approved the installation of new personal computers in the homes of board members, even as the faculty was complaining of a shortage of technology equipment in classrooms. The computers were later removed.

Some board members view the chancellor as a supporter of the faculty, which has become more vocal recently, charging that it felt voiceless in the reorganization.

"Given all his extravagances, LaVista still promoted a shared governance in terms of process, of what will happen to the faculty, to programs," said Rosemary Klein, an English professor at Dundalk and vice president of the American Association of University Professors chapter there.

"The way he has gone about the reorganization has been too laborious for the board," she said. "They want it done quickly, cleanly, with no input from the faculty."

DTC The Rev. Frank Haig, Loyola College professor and president of the Maryland AAUP, says that once the faculty rebelled against the board, LaVista "was put in an impossible position, like making peace between a husband and wife who are fighting."

Some board members defend LaVista.

"Dan's smooth, intelligent, nationally recognized," said board member Timothy Kotroco. "There isn't a harder-working person in the system. If he has a fault, it's not knowing the political landscape and the way things are done in Baltimore County."

Added board member Elayne Hettleman: "Dan's done a great job."

In addition to the private discussions to remove LaVista, the board is quietly exploring ways to close the system's headquarters office in Towson and move employees to one of the campuses. The offices irritated some public officials, who criticized the added layer of bureaucracy created in the reorganization and the choice of expensive offices.

In the spring, the County Council cut $2.3 million from the system's budget. On Wednesday, the board approved a $76 million budget for fiscal 1998, a slight drop from the previous year.

This week, faculty leaders sent Gov. Parris N. Glendening a petition with 700 signatures from the 1,280-member faculty calling for the resignation of the board.

Alleging illegal secret meetings and incompetence, faculty leaders complained that the board's proposal to abolish tenure for new faculty members would undermine the quality of education at the colleges.

Under other guidelines approved last month by the board, the colleges' full-time instructors would be paid less for teaching summer school classes, sabbaticals would be curtailed and department heads would have to spend more time in the classroom.

The petition has prompted members of the county's Senate delegation to plan legislation urging term limits for board members.

Sens. Paula C. Hollinger, a Pikesville Democrat, and F. Vernon Boozer, a Towson Republican, said the current six-year terms are too long for members who prove ineffective.

"The system is being destroyed by all this conflict," Hollinger said. "There are lots of dedicated faculty trying to do a good job, and the colleges are important for those who can't afford four-year schools. This has to be resolved."

Board Chairman Chaillou would not comment on the petition. In a written statement, he said the board "views the petition as a further attempt to halt the reorganization." Regarding his qualifications, Chaillou wrote: "I have spent many hours on college business. I have attended conferences, committee meetings, retreats and have read countless documents on our colleges ."

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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