New leader for community colleges Baltimore County: Board of trustees must give Chancellor McPhail freedom to manage.

January 30, 1998

BALTIMORE COUNTY'S troubled community colleges appear to have made a top-notch choice in Irving P. McPhail as chancellor. His credentials -- an Ivy League background with extensive experience leading college systems and a knowledge of local institutions -- are impeccable.

Now the question is whether the colleges' board of trustees will grant Dr. McPhail the freedom to lead it down the road to reform.

There is reason to think that it will. Much has changed since last year's debacle, when reorganization of the county's three-campus system became mired in a three-way fight between a hostile, inept, control-happy board, a controversial chancellor in Daniel J. LaVista and a disgruntled faculty. The colleges were in chaos after the board fired Dr. LaVista, but then County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger asked dogged, dedicated former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly to take over as board chairman.

Mr. Kelly hired a consultant, who pinpointed a plethora of problems and possible solutions. And the board -- historically marked by geographic dissension, undue political allegiances and a lack of vision -- was enlarged to include new blood, while some old members were pressured to leave. The new board members seem to understand that their role is to set policy, then depend on the chancellor to run the system. Unlike its predecessor, this board is already taking an advocacy role for the colleges: It is seeking substantial new money in the next budget for instructional technology, an area in which all three campuses -- Catonsville, Essex and Dundalk -- are woefully behind the times.

Dr. McPhail will need all the talent that has been ascribed to him. Baltimore County's community colleges may be on the right track, but they have a long way to go. The integration of the three campuses into a single system is a sensitive matter not yet complete. The faculty, while no longer in battle mode, remains skeptical and anxious to participate in campus decisions. Some buildings are in serious disrepair. A growing number of students need remedial work in mathematics and reading.

But if the new chancellor lives up to his resume and if the board has truly changed its stripes, citizen despair in Baltimore County over the community colleges could soon turn to cautious optimism.

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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