Governor, leaders support greater college autonomy

Move marks a break from system of oversights established a decade ago

February 16, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Striving to boost the state's public colleges, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders endorsed a move yesterday to give the University System of Maryland more autonomy.

Embracing the work of a recent state task force headed by Adm. Charles R. Larson, the governor introduced legislation that would free the 11-campus system from key regulatory oversight.

But Glendening declined, for now, to allocate an additional $27 million in state funding that the task force had suggested be spent on the University System to improve academic programs. A spokesman said the governor will likely press for the money before the General Assembly finishes work on the state budget in April.

"The governor fully intends to put $27 million into a supplemental budget to fully implement the recommendations," said Don Vandrey, a spokesman for Glendening.

Although the additional state funding is in doubt, supporters of the University System said they were pleased with the legislation.

It would allow the separate campuses and the University System Board of Regents to create new academic programs without the oversight of the Maryland Higher Education Commission, as long as the programs conform to the campuses' stated missions.

It would, for example, prevent a school such as Towson University from adding a slew of doctoral programs because that's not in its mission.

But it would allow the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to proceed with an electrical engineering program that has been rejected by the higher education commission largely because a similar program exists at Morgan State University.

University System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said the legislation would give the system important autonomy.

"Don't tell us exactly how to do what we do, but hold us accountable for what we do very well," Langenberg said.

The legislation represents a philosophical shift from the course set 10 years ago by the General Assembly, which concluded that the higher education commission should be given oversight of all academic programs in the state, to avoid costly duplication.

The University System has bristled under that oversight, and some key legislators have complained that campuses such as the University of Maryland, College Park have failed to thrive in the past decade.

The governor's legislation would give College Park -- the system's flagship institution -- increased stature by specifying that the campus' president could seek extra funding directly from the governor, without the approval of the Board of Regents.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the legislature's leading advocate for College Park, had pushed for that change. Miller said the legislation would improve the entire system.

"We're in daily and weekly competition with our sister states, and Maryland higher public education has not done well since the 1988 reorganization" of the state's college system, Miller said.

Pub Date: 2/16/99

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