Game plan for fixing troubled state colleges

Task force: Final report sets the right priorities, but legislature and governor may yet play politics.

January 25, 1999

MARYLAND needs a better-funded, more decentralized state university system. The governor and General Assembly should not play politics with the sensible recommendations of a task force on higher education.

The task force embraced most of the points The Sun detailed last month in a four-part editorial series. We are especially cheered by the panel's priorities, topped by enhancement of the largest state campus at College Park and the science and technology campuses in downtown Baltimore and Catonsville.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and General Assembly leaders should heed the panel. Otherwise, a political donnybrook could break out.

The task force portrays Maryland public higher education in troubling terms: inadequate state support; a bureaucracy obsessed by red tape; a power struggle between two governing boards; campus presidents without the authority to run their own operations.

All that must change. The panel wants to limit the Maryland Higher Education Commission to a vision-setting, oversight role, with no regulatory power.

The University System of Maryland's Board of Regents should act as the prime regulatory body within a more autonomous system. But the regents, too, must cede power to the campus presidents.

Giving presidents greater control on campus must be tied to targeted state aid to key institutions. Governor Glendening has expressed willingness to support these fiscal suggestions.

That would translate into $9.1 million more for College Park; $7 million for the University of Maryland, Baltimore; $5 million for University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and $5.7 million for fast-growing Towson University.

Legislators should embrace these spending initiatives and a decentralized governing plan. Yet some lawmakers, such as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, want to undercut the task force. The independence that he seeks for College Park, his alma mater, would tear apart higher education.

Maryland's future depends on the success of its public research universities -- College Park, UMB and UMBC. They need flexibility to respond to changes in technology and education. They must get priority at budget time.

Lawmakers ought not rewrite the task force report. The panel achieved consensus from most stakeholders. That's a remarkable feat. Legislators should seek consensus, too, and commit themselves to a long-term effort to dramatically raise the quality of higher education in Maryland.

Protect the nation's diplomats

Crowe report: Terror bombings of embassies were preventable, but cost had seemed too high.

THE UNITED STATES owes its public servants protection against the nation's enemies. The commission investigating the Aug. 7 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania reported a persistent failure to meet that obligation.

This panel, chaired by Adm. William J. Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spread the blame. What happened was the fault of the State Department but also the CIA and FBI, the White House and its budget office and Congress. It was the fault of the Clinton, Reagan and Bush administrations.

A study by a similar panel during the latter stages of the Cold War recommended specific design features to fortify embassies against terrorism. Fifteen embassies were renovated or rebuilt to meet "Inman standards," named for Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, former director of the CIA, who chaired that commission. The Office of Management and Budget and Congress refused more. Such improvements could have lowered the death toll from the Aug. 7 truck bombs at the embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that killed 224 persons and wounded 5,000.

Secure embassies have drawbacks. They are impersonal and arrogant, the opposite of the image sought by that U.S. diplomacy. Neither can Inman standards be created everywhere overnight.

But for starters, the administration and Congress should adopt the $1.4 billion increase in spending on embassy security over 10 years recommended by the Crowe commission, doubling the amount added last summer.

Congress has repeatedly cut the State Department's budget along with foreign aid and foreign policy spending. Loss of influence abroad is one result. Vulnerability is another. It is time to reverse course.

Pub Date: 1/25/99

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