Chancellor defines his strategy Inauguration: Irving Pressley McPhail reveals his goals for the Community College of Baltimore County.

Education Beat

September 30, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ABOUT 4 P.M. TOMORROW, the Community Colleges of Baltimore County will symbolically drop their "s" and become the Community College of Baltimore County, a single college with three campuses -- Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex.

The ceremonial signing of legislation creating the single entity is part of a three-day celebration culminating Saturday in the inauguration of Irving Pressley McPhail as chancellor.

McPhail, a 49-year-old former reading specialist, is a big man with a big voice and an equally big challenge. His predecessor, Daniel J. LaVista, was fired in January 1997. A consultant's report criticized the administration of the three colleges. Faculty, staff and alumni fear the single college will blur the identities of their campuses. McPhail was interviewed in his office in Catonsville.

What are your plans for the college?

In essence, we're creating an entirely new institution, a learning-centered college, out of what had been three very fine independent colleges but that did not have, at the point of my arrival, a statement of mission, of beliefs or objectives for the future. In other words, no plan. Our five-year strategic plan creates a new institution shaped in the mode of a learning college.

What's a learning college?

It's something I've been thinking about since 1995. We're going to shift the emphasis from an instructional paradigm to a learning paradigm. The essential difference is that in the instructional paradigm, you focus on teaching. In the learning paradigm, you focus on learning outcomes, and you make learning available anyplace, anytime.

We'll be vastly increasing the number of options available to students through tele-learning and technology in the classrooms and laboratories. There'll be new kinds of partnerships between faculty and students and between the campuses and the outside world, that will transfer our campuses into true learning communities where everyone is a learner and everyone becomes part of the learning equation. By "everyone" I mean the custodial staff, the support staff, the administration and, of course, faculty and students.

If we're able to pull this off, we're talking about re-engineering the institution.

Do you have the resources to do this?

I've learned in 27 years in this business that resources follow programming and not the other way around. And your best chance of turning an institution around is the quality drafting of the programs and services you provide students. The drive toward the learning college will be the strategy that will get us through this tumultuous period and get us back on the right track. I believe that passionately.

Dundalk Community College, much smaller than Catonsville and Essex and very close to Essex, always seems to be fighting for its life. How will Dundalk fare under the McPhail administration?

I get excited when I think about Dundalk. Its smaller size is a strength, not a weakness. It offers us an opportunity for really interesting pilot and experimental kinds of programs. I've spent a lot of time at Dundalk in my eight months here, and it has the feel of a big family.

In your eight months, what have you found that you expected, and that you didn't expect?

What I expected was resistance on the part of some to the notion of becoming a single college, multicampus institution. I knew that there would be anxiety and a residue of ill will. But we're not trying to obliterate individual campus identities. The campuses are the strength of the institution. We want to find ways to exploit them positively for the benefit of the whole college.

What's most surprising to me is some of the fear and anxiety caused, I believe, by the demographic changes at the college. I ** would have thought the culture would have been more prepared to deal with these changes, such as the increasing presence of minority students.

You're the opposite of James D. Tschechtelin, aren't you? He's the white president of a majority-black community college [Baltimore City Community College], and you're a black man hired to head a predominantly white college.

That's right, and Jim and I have become buddies. He's taken a PTC bold stand. He has a very powerful message -- and a message this system needs to hear. He says we need to stop burying or running away from fundamental issues and questions, like race. We have to start thinking about what the 21st century will look like with its global society. We have to ask ourselves how we're going to prepare ourselves and our students to interact with people of different color from different cultures.

Maybe this is the time to raise the issue of the letter in which you thanked African-American employees for a welcoming dinner and advised them to "watch each others' backs." How does that jibe with your calls for racial inclusion?

I think it's perfectly proper and appropriate to communicate with members of your own cultural community in language and metaphors and semantics and syntax appropriate to members of that culture. They understood. I have a stack of messages to prove it. Some of them came from people outside that culture [whites] who felt the kind of paranoid, hysterical reaction was inappropriate. Some people also were reading mail that wasn't addressed to them.

Now we've got to make this a teachable moment. Jim Tschechtelin's courage is an example. We've got to get out of the whispering, underground stage. This should be a diverse community, where everybody of every race comes to learn, to feel good, to benefit and to go out into Baltimore County and beyond and, hopefully, to be transformative.

Pub Date: 9/30/98

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