College chiefs discuss break from system Towson's Smith, UMCP's Mote seek more independence

'Other alternatives'

Top administrators of smaller schools support status quo

October 22, 1998|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The president of Towson University testified yesterday that unless the University System of Maryland is drastically changed, he wants his school out of it.

"The University System of Maryland has neither understood nor valued the role of a large, complex, metropolitan, comprehensive university, or has not had a vision for it," Hoke Smith told a task force examining the governance structure of the state's public colleges and universities.

"I personally believe we have given system membership the 'old college try' and it has not worked for us," Smith said. "I cannot in good conscience continue to follow that option without exploring other alternatives. If it is feasible, we should give independence from the system a chance."

Smith's broadside came after a few warning shots by C. D. "Dan" Mote, the new president of the University of Maryland, College Park. They were testifying in Annapolis on the second day of appearances by college presidents before the task force chaired by retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, former head of the Naval Academy.

While Mote noted that he had been on the job only 51 days and "cannot presume to offer an informed recommendation on Maryland's system of higher education," he outlined several proposals that would substantially change his campus' relationship with the university system.

He said UMCP should be allowed to approach the governor and the legislature independently with its requests, instead of letting the university system lobby for the 11 institutions it oversees.

"Because we account for 40 percent of the system's budget and nearly 50 percent of all federally sponsored research, and because our success is fundamentally essential to the well-being of the state, the president should present the campus mission, programs and budgetary requirements directly to the governor for full and independent discussions," Mote said.

With several other presidents, Mote also urged greater autonomy for his campus. "The university must have greater flexibility to conduct academic and business operations," Mote said.

"The high level of control imposed on operations by layers of state offices has been documented in many recent studies," he said. "The attempt to establish academic policies that apply equally to all member institutions works at cross purposes with the assignment of a specific mission to any one of them."

Mote asked for a separate fund-raising foundation for UMCP, which shares a foundation with several other campuses. That foundation is run by the university system.

Mote noted that he headed the foundation at his previous campus, the University of California at Berkeley, and found it important not only in fund raising but also in developing relationships with business and community leaders.

Smith, who has been at Towson for 20 years, also complained about the system's high level of control, which he said was not the intention when the structure was set up in 1988.

"I recognize that the legislature and the governor may prefer to keep a system," Smith said. "Therefore, [an] option is that the USM would change its operating philosophy to be more in line with the original conception of a decentralized system that facilitates the agendas and growth of its members. We need less regulation and more facilitation and service."

The university system was established by the legislature 10 years ago, putting all the state's colleges under one chancellor and a Board of Regents. Two schools -- Morgan State University and St. Mary's College -- stayed out of the system and have their own regents.

The task force was set up by state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Casper R. Taylor Jr. to determine if the system needs modification. Many observers think Miller wants UMCP -- which is in his Prince George's County district -- out of the system.

The two other college presidents who testified yesterday -- Catherine Gira of Frostburg State University and Dolores R. Spikes of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore -- also asked for more autonomy but generally approved of the system.

This widened the division in the testimony between the larger schools, whose presidents see their political power stymied by system membership, and the smaller schools, whose leaders see membership in the system as raising their political standing.

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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