New day dawning for state universities

Reform bill: More freedom for campus presidents, more money from governor and legislature.

April 19, 1999

GIVE the General Assembly and Gov. Parris N. Glendening credit for completing the work begun by a blue-ribbon task force to streamline Maryland's unwieldy and ineffective system for running its public universities.

From now on, campus presidents will have the freedom to manage their operations without constant interference from two governing boards and state bureaucrats. They also will have far more money to meet the needs of Maryland students.

That's the result of landmark legislation approved by the 1999 General Assembly that liberates the 11 campus presidents of the University System of Maryland to aggressively pursue their unique strategies while still being held accountable for their actions.

If these presidents want to start new programs, they no longer have to wage a lengthy battle with the board of regents and the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Other colleges can still object and get a hearing before MHEC, but the matter must be resolved within 30 days. That's the kind of flexibility with accountability state universities need in today's fast-changing world.

Legislators and the governor also made a strong commitment to boost higher education spending. The budget approved for the fiscal year starting July 1 allocates an additional $70 million to USM, a 10.75 percent increase. There is also a 28 percent increase in construction spending. Such attention from state leaders had been missing in the past.

USM now will become a public corporation, freeing the campuses from Annapolis red tape. They will gain the same procurement and governing authority that has worked so well for Morgan State University.

Later this year, Governor Glendening will convene a conference to develop a strategic plan for the state's public universities. This conference will be held every two years. Part of its mission should be to focus the governor and top educators on creating a unified vision for higher education.

The tough part lies ahead: Making these reforms work. Campus presidents face the most pressure to improve quality in classrooms and research labs. But much will depend on the dedication of the governor and legislators to continue their high level of support in future years.

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