Protecting, preserving Morgan State

Scrutiny: No public institution is sacrosanct, or exempt from governmental review -- and this is in the public's best interest.

April 30, 2000|By Howard P. Rawlings

I HAVE RECEIVED calls and letters from many friends and alumni of Morgan State University over the past several weeks regarding the budget decisions that the House Appropriations Committee made about Morgan State and, ultimately, the decisions that were made by the entire House of Delegates and Senate of Maryland.

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Much of the information that has been circulating about those decisions has been misleading and often presented in a way that has caused some confusion and doubt about my commitment to Morgan State and other institutions that serve the African-American community.

As an alumnus, I am very proud of this exemplary institution. I have no doubt that Morgan State University will continue on this path of service and excellence while being responsive to the public interest, in particular the taxpayers of Maryland.

I concur with the conclusions of the comprehensive performance audit done by James L. Fisher Ltd. that:

"Today's Morgan State University is an institution of growing enrollment, an attractive and expanding physical plant and campus, an increasingly well-qualified student body, a clearly articulated and attractive urban mission, an expanding roster of graduate and professional programs, an increasingly strong political constituency, vastly improved fiscal controls, ubiquitous technology, and exceptionally capable leadership."

At the same time, in my responsibilities as an elected state representative and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, I have consistently subscribed to the following principles:

(1.) No institution that receives public funds is sacrosanct.

(2.) All public agencies that receive millions of taxpayer dollars should be, and will be, subject to public scrutiny.

I believe that such principles are important to Morgan State University's future, and are in the public's interest.

Many friends of Morgan State University are not aware that the university is seeking to be elevated to a higher mission level, known as Carnegie Classification Doctoral II, and that the university is not included in the higher education funding guidelines this year because the peers that seem appropriate for comparison to Morgan State University are inadequate, since the university's current funding level exceeds them.

ka10 For example, the Fisher review notes that Morgan's faculty salaries exceed its peers in the comprehensive public category at both the average and 60th percentile levels at every faculty rank, and are competitive, even at the 60th percentile level, with institutions in the public doctoral category, the classification to which Morgan aspires.

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I only mention this because, during my eight years as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, I have ensured that Morgan State has done quite well in both its operating and capital budgets.

Now let me lay out the facts that led to the budget language adopted this year.

In 1998, the General Assembly undertook a comprehensive review of the University System of Maryland 10 years after the system's creation.

Under the leadership of Admiral Charles Larson, U.S. Navy (Ret.), a joint Legislative-Executive Task Force spent many hours reviewing each campus of the system and the overall structure of the system.

The task force hired two consultants to examine the system's management and financing.

Members of the task force visited every system campus and reviewed their progress since 1988.

In addition, legislative members of the task force had private sessions with the presidents of the major system campuses and the Board of Regents.

As I noted, this was a very thorough and comprehensive review.

The outcome of this process was major legislation that accomplished two major objectives.

First, it restructured the system as a public corporation with greater autonomy, especially in management responsibilities for the campus presidents.

Second, unsatisfied with the level of State funding, the General Assembly directed the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to develop new funding guidelines for public higher education, which included Morgan State University, with an essential component based on comparison of Maryland's institutions with appropriate national peers, both current and aspirational.

ka10 As I mentioned earlier, in developing the funding guidelines it was determined that Morgan State University measured very well in comparison with current and aspirational peers.

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The General Assembly has directed MHEC to continue working with Morgan to determine appropriate peers and include Morgan in the funding guidelines next year.

This year, Morgan received a 10 percent increase in its operating budget, in line with increases for the University System of Maryland campuses.

As the system legislation neared passage by the General Assembly in 1999, Morgan State University requested similar enhanced autonomy.

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