Community Colleges' Computers Dated

Balto. Co. Schools `This Side Of The Dark Ages'

April 27, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Computers are crucial to the future of Gary Becker, who's studying computer-aided design at Essex Community College and planning to attend the Johns Hopkins University's school of engineering.

Fellow student George Phillips, a night shift metal worker, is building a new career through cyberspace.

And Carole Cascio, a former dancer and biochemist, is studying computer-aided design and drafting to heighten her creativity.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, they agree that Maryland's largest community college system -- in the throes of a tumultuous reorganization -- is woefully behind in computer technology.

The head of the system acknowledges the problem. Until 1999, when a new computer system is expected to go on line, "we're just this side of the Dark Ages," said Harold D. McAninch, interim chancellor of the 70,000-student Community Colleges of Baltimore County.

The lack of spending for technology has become a sore point with faculty members who see the system's board of trustees committing $265,000 to buy out fired Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista and to hire consultant James L. Fisher, a former president of Towson State University.

"Instruction is great but compared to technology we've seen in the private work place, the classroom computers are as ancient as T squares," said Becker of Rosedale, who works part time in a restaurant.

"With my job, I'd like to come into school on Sundays to do graphics homework on the computers, but the library is closed," said Phillips, of Dundalk.

Student fees

Some also question the diversion of hundreds of thousands of dollars in "student technology fees" at the Essex, Dundalk and Catonsville campuses. They say the $3-per-credit fee, used for a computerized system to handle administrative chores from payroll to registration, should be spent on technology that would have a more direct impact on students.

In a memo to college officials last month, Ronald C. Heacock, director for strategic planning and grant development, said, "the board envisioned the Banner Information System as the top priority for dollars from the [Student Technology Fund]."

"Originally, it was hoped that we could pay for part of the system from the fund and part through savings from the reorganization. However savings from the reorganization were removed from the CCBC budget last fiscal year."

Heacock said the $3 million Banner system was funded primarily from the student fee. "Student Information System is really a misnomer, but in the long run students will certainly benefit from it," he said.

College officials this year spent $600,000 on the system and $900,000 on instructional technology, he said. The colleges expect to raise $1.25 million next year from the technology fee -- about as much as this year. The fee will rise to $4 per credit, but declining enrollment will offset the increase.

"It feels disingenuous for the college to have the students pay for what essentially is a management system," said Cascio, retired chairwoman of the Essex dance department. "The money we pay should be directed to student needs."

Veteran professors point out nagging problems.

Marie Skane, math instructor at Catonsville, says that of the 18 computers in her lab, five are broken. Another 21 computers are being installed in another classroom after a monthlong wait.

"And both rooms have classes scheduled in them all day," said Skane. "All 20 computers in the library work, but there are always lines of students waiting to use them."

Meanwhile, students who inquire whether Essex has access to the Internet are told that there's one computer in the library -- first-come, first-served.

Underpaid technicians

Essex and Dundalk have two full-time technicians apiece while Catonsville has one full-time and one part-time technical support staffer to work on software and terminal problems. Other work is handled by private vendors.

"We haven't caught up to the new technology, we underpay our technicians and have no training budget," said Wally Knapp, director of computer services.

"In a recent job posting for a technical support worker at Montgomery College, the annual salary range was $38,000-$63,000. I have a technician, a good one, who's been with me eight years and he is paid $28,000. Guess what he can't wait to do -- leave."

To many faculty members, the technology problems -- and recent board spending on LaVista and Fisher -- represent trustee wishes clashing with the needs of students and instructors.

Michael Cain, English professor and president of the American Association of University Professors chapter at Catonsville, said, "there's always money to do something like the buyout and pay for Fisher and that's money that never reaches the students."

Said Larry Aaronson, head of a group that has called for collective bargaining for faculty members: "There still exists a tremendous amount of mistrust between faculty and board because of elimination of tenure and the computer issue, which precisely illustrates that mistrust.

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