The battle lines were drawn in Annapolis yesterday over the bill that would change the governance of Maryland's system of higher education, and they ran right across the authority of the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
The conflict was clear in testimony before a joint hearing of two Senate committees -- Budget and Taxation and Economic and Environmental Affairs -- on a bill designed to implement the recommendations of a task force that studied the state's system of higher education last fall.
The hearing pitted the commission and schools that would still be subject to it against institutions in the University System of Maryland that would gain more autonomy.
The commission has broad authority over every course of study offered in the state's colleges and universities, private and public. This bill would allow the 11 public institutions in the university system to start programs without MHEC approval for the next three years.
It would not give the same authority to community colleges and private institutions, or to Morgan State University and St. Mary's College, the two state four-year schools not part of the system.
"I object to granting USM presidents the authority to establish programs without state review, even on a three-year trial basis," said Patricia Florestano, who, as the secretary of higher education, heads the commission.
"We believe the change, if enacted, would be detrimental to higher education and the public," she said.
Florestano voiced her objections, though she is a member of the Cabinet of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who proposed the bill. She was backed by representatives of the state's community colleges and private institutions, which would need commission approval for new programs.
She said the change could lead to duplicate courses.
"An institution with enterprising faculty, administrators and outside supporters likely will move to expand its curricula to match those of other campuses," Florestano said. "The result will be a higher education version of `keeping up with the Joneses,' paid for by Maryland taxpayers."
The bill stems from four months of hearings by the task force chaired by Adm. Charles R. Larson, retired superintendent of the Naval Academy.
The provision was proposed by task force member Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel Republican, who said that the university presidents should be allowed to create any program within their institutions' mission statements and budget.
One of the points of the task force report was to free presidents from state regulations. It argues that university system institutions are subject to the authority of their state-appointed board of regents, so it is unfair to make them go to the commission for further permission for new programs and courses.
Former Gov. Harry R. Hughes testified as a member of the board of regents in favor of the legislation.
"As a former governor, I am a firm believer in giving operating units wide latitude to accomplish their mission and in holding unit heads accountable for the results," he said. "That is what this legislation is all about.
"We have a very good set of leaders among our presidents, so let's let them lead."
Beth Garroway, head of the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association, disagreed.
"It would be inherently unfair to give this authority to presidents in the university system and not give the same authority to the presidents of the community colleges, the independent colleges and Morgan State and St. Mary's," she said.
USM Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg spoke in favor of the bill, calling it a "truly momentous piece of legislation." Like others who backed the bill, he called for no changes.
"I strongly urge you to support it," he said. "I would also urge you not to compromise the carefully designed checks and balances in the bill or to jeopardize its major benefits with minor amendments."
Pub Date: 3/02/99