Community colleges get new leader St. Louis educator to head facilities in Baltimore County

'Situation is critical'

Troubled schools lost chancellor in January

December 24, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Carrying Ivy League credentials and experience in local education, Irving Pressley McPhail was named yesterday as chancellor of the troubled Community Colleges of Baltimore County and the system's 70,000 students.

McPhail, 48, will assume office Feb. 1. He has resigned his position as president of St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley in St. Louis to take the Maryland post.

"Clearly, the situation in Baltimore County is critical, primarily in funding and technology, and we're excited about the opportunity to steer the system toward being one of the best in the nation," McPhail said in a telephone interview from St. Louis.

McPhail, who was a research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University and a department chairman at Morgan State University, was selected after a yearlong search by a committee of board members and system professors. He will succeed interim Chancellor Hal D. McAninch.

The hiring of McPhail, system leaders hope, will be a final chapter in the tumultuous recent history of the state's largest community college system, culminating in the firing in January of Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista.

In a 100-page report released in September, a team of independent education specialists said an inept and political board of trustees had led Baltimore County's three schools in Essex, Catonsville and Dundalk to "near chaos."

Reform will be required from the classroom to the top administrative offices, the report said.

"We are absolutely thrilled with the choice of Dr. McPhail as the new chancellor," said Francis X. Kelly, chairman of the system's board of trustees. "He was the best person for the job, but the fact he's an African-American is a plus in a system that is lacking miserably in diversity."

Said David Pierce, president of the American Association of Community Colleges: "Irving McPhail is one of the brightest lights on the community college horizon. He will bring movement and stability to what was a troubled situation."

McPhail was born and raised in Harlem, N.Y., where his father was a furniture upholsterer and his mother a homemaker. He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology at Cornell University, a master's at Harvard University and a doctorate in reading/language arts at the University of Pennsylvania.

He also completed studies at the Presidents Academy of the American Association of Community Colleges and the Harvard University Institute for Education Management.

McPhail's administrative and teaching experience spans posts as university provost at Pace University in New York, dean of arts and sciences at Wayne County Community College in Detroit, vice president and dean of academic affairs at Delaware State University and numerous faculty positions.

His appointment to the chancellor's job brings him back to the Baltimore area. In 1971, he taught reading at Morgan State and served as chairman of Morgan's department of elementary education from 1977 to 1980.

He was assistant provost, division of human and community resources, at the University of Maryland, College Park from 1980 to 1982, and was a research scientist in the Center for Metropolitan Planning and Research at Hopkins from 1982 to 1985.

McPhail also served as chief operating officer for Baltimore City public schools, 1984 to 1985.

The new chancellor's desire to improve technology in the system could receive a major boost if the board of trustees can persuade local government officials to approve the budget.

Kelly said the board is seeking a $9 million increase in the 1999 fiscal year budget. The fiscal 1998 budget with state, county and tuition funds is $83 million.

A major portion of that $9 million increase, if approved by the County Council and the county executive, will be dedicated to instructional technology, Kelly said.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, said he will "have to look at specifics before I would approve a jump like that. But the system is being more open with county government."

While the chancellor cannot influence the board, he must address other problems -- such as a way to bring more computers into classrooms and designate funds to repair aging physical plants, particularly at Essex.

McPhail also is faced with a growing number of younger students who need remedial work in mathematics and reading -- tasks that draw faculty from their regular disciplines.

While McPhail's appointment has brought renewed hope to trustees, faculty members remain cautious.

"After all that has happened to this system in this last two years, we can't do anything but take a wait-and-see position," said Margaret Guchemand, chairwoman of the Essex music department.

"The major question is, will this chancellor rule by mandate or will the faculty have a voice in issues affecting academic direction?" Guchemand asked. "Will this truly be shared governance or just in name only?"

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