Opinions aired on Balto. Co. colleges Series of three forums on reorganized system elicits variety of views

October 20, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

One administrator sees the turbulent reorganization of Maryland's largest community college system as "light at the end of the tunnel."

Another veteran of the classroom denounces the move to centralize Baltimore County's three campuses as the "McDonaldization" of the colleges, where students are called "customers" and communities are "markets."

In the middle is Francis X. Kelly, chairman of the system's reconstituted 15-member board, who continues to push aggressive changes, most recently at a series of open forums at the three campuses, in Essex, Dundalk and Catonsville.

"I understand that people want to make their points, and they're good ones," said Kelly, a hard-driving former state senator who was vice chairman of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee. "But we have to forge ahead to bring the system back to a position where it once was -- one of the best in the country."

The changes -- prompted by a 100-page report last month that bTC said the 70,000-student system was in "near chaos" -- could include restructuring the job of the college presidents, eliminating duplication of programs among the campuses and upgrading inadequate technology and library services.

The college system has been buffeted in the past year by the firing of Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista in January and the proposed abolition of tenure for new faculty members, which spawned demands among 350 full-time professors for collective bargaining.

Meanwhile, rumors continue that the office of president will be abolished or the presidents fired at the three campuses.

The report said the system could save $750,000 a year by converting the presidents' titles to provosts through savings in salaries, fringe benefits, staff and perquisites such as cars.

"Mediocrity at the top is not likely to pull this institution out of the morass," the report said.

Frederick J. Walsh, at Catonsville Community College, earns $101,970; Felix T. Haynes, at Dundalk, $92,185; and Leila Gonzalez Sullivan, at Essex, $101,455. Although the board recently extended the contracts of the presidents for one year, they expire in June 1999.

Kelly has done little to quell the rumors while he heads a search committee to find a chancellor to replace LaVista.

"Dr. Walsh was recruited by a college out of state, and he sought my advice," Kelly said. "I told him I couldn't speak for the new chancellor. We felt the year would give the presidents time to do their jobs."

He added: "The chancellor -- and we hope to have one by January -- will run the system, and that person will make the decision on the presidents."

Sullivan, however, said she is not worried about losing her job and thinks the idea of combining the president's job with that of academic dean is a bad one.

"I don't think that's humanly possible," she said, noting that she already has taken over the duties of two other deans -- administration and development -- whose jobs were eliminated. "I've got enough on my job description," she said.

Walsh said he was offered, and turned down, the presidency of Harrisburg Area Community College, and expressed confidence that his job will remain viable.

"The recommendation in the report is to retain the presidents," he said, adding, however, that their role and that of academic dean could be rolled into one. "I don't think the job [of president is] going to be eliminated."

Haynes declined to comment on his future at Dundalk.

"I appreciate the year extension, and the 3 percent bonus that all county employees received," he said. "Beyond that, presidents serve at the pleasure of the board. We all know the dynamics of board decisions. The board is the ultimate decision maker."

Kelly, who has earned the respect of the faculty and administrators for his access and commitment to improvement, also is attempting to persuade three members of the system's board of trustees to resign.

Last month's critical report charged that a political and inept board -- distrusted by the faculty -- has damaged the colleges' local and national reputation.

Kelly has said privately he wants to replace Bruce J. Chaillou, Alan J. Ferguson and Ronald G. Abe, the latter two having served on the board a total of 30 years.

At the three open forums, which concluded last week, faculty, administrators and other employees voiced their concerns about aging physical plants, a central faculty senate, uncertainty about layoffs of classified workers and proposed changes in the names of the campuses.

Paul Bender, manager of computer services at Essex Community College, told the board that centralization is a "radical change for the better. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

But the most common threads running through the recent forums were the trustees' decision to abolish tenure for new faculty and the report's recommendation that the college system's administration be centralized.

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