College board inept, experts' report says Trustees of Balto. Co.'s 3-campus system called 'completely political'

Conditions are 'near chaos'

Suggested reforms include abolishing 3 presidencies

September 18, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

In a blistering critique of Maryland's largest community college system, a team of independent experts says an inept and political board of trustees led Baltimore County's three schools to "near chaos," requiring reforms from the classroom to the top administrative offices.

The 100-page report, released last night at a packed meeting, says progress has often been hindered by infighting among trustees and top administrators -- and calls for the abolishment of presidents for the Dundalk, Catonsville and Essex campuses. According to the report, technology is inadequate, programs often are redundant and libraries need more funding.

Officials, speaking on condition they not be identified by name, said the report could provide board Chairman Francis X. Kelly the opportunity to seek the resignations of at least three trustees -- Bruce J. Chaillou, Ronald G. Abe and Alan J. Ferguson, the latter two having served on the board a total of 30 years.

"The institutional review process has confirmed that morale is at a low point among faculty and staff on our campuses," Kelly said in remarks prepared for last night's board meeting at Dundalk Community College. "But remarkably and to their everlasting credit, there is no evidence to show that this discontent has been translated to our students."

The report was submitted to the 15-member board and interim Chancellor Harold D. McAninch at the Dundalk meeting.

The report says the previous two decades were "halcyon" days for the Community Colleges of Baltimore County. But "it is clear that the world in which the CCBC operated had changed dramatically by 1995, and by 1997 the CCBC was rent asunder by surprising bitterness, instability and lack of trust."

In January, Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista -- hired in 1995 to craft a single system from schools with 70,000 students and an annual budget of $83 million -- was fired after a turbulent tenure.

"From this point the situation declined rapidly, finally extending to the state and national level where the CCBC, and particularly the board, became an embarrassing example," the report says.

"The trustees were considered for the most part inept and uninformed, completely political, and in some cases simply malicious," it says. "This whole situation at CCBC seems a case book study in a total leadership vacuum resulting in near chaos."

During this time, when enrollment declined 8 percent, campus leaders started to unionize the 346 faculty members.

Professors said board members were "out of touch" with higher education. Some trustees, meanwhile, argued that many faculty members did not work sufficient hours, and that cherished faculty institutions such as tenure were "anachronistic."

While the panel of experts commends Kelly for being "trustworthy and action-oriented," it says the task before him and a new chancellor "may not approach the cleaning of the Augean stables, but it is daunting."

Even after the panel conducted its examination, the reports says, "several board members continue to proudly enunciate views that appear largely responsible for the hostility that has disrupted the CCBC."

The panel says the "major problem is clearly the Board of Trustees with several unenlightened, hostile members who are abetted and supported by a few, even less informed elected officials who continue to make decisions without thoughtful regard for the colleges or the public interest."

Those trustees were not identified in the report.

In spite of the internal strife, Kelly said, the three schools remain "respected by transfer institutions, students and employers."

The report, prepared over several months, was based on 200 interviews with faculty, students, public officials and benefactors.

Panel members were David R. Pierce, president of the American Association of Community Colleges; George B. Vaughn, professor of higher education at North Carolina State University and former president of Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, N.C.; James V. Koch, president of Old Dominion University; and Paul E. Wisdom, who retired recently after a career that included senior posts at Florida Institute of Technology, Colorado State University and Towson University.

They were paid from the $25,000 quarterly consulting fee given James Lee Fisher, a former Towson University president and national consultant and author. Fisher also heads a search committee for the new system chancellor.

Among the panel's conclusions and recommendations:

Change the method by which trustees are selected. The panel recommends that eight trustees be chosen by state senators and seven by the county executive in consultation with the County Council, with final appointment by the governor. Currently, senators select trustees, who are appointed by the governor.

The report also says a code of ethics for trustees should be adopted.

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