Report on CCBC praises leader

THE EDUCATION BEAT

Study: A long-awaited evaluation notes significant improvements at the Community College of Baltimore County since a new chancellor was named in 1997.

April 09, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THERE'S a little something for everyone in the long-awaited evaluation of the Community College of Baltimore County by consultant James L. Fisher.

For college Chancellor Irving Pressley McPhail, the $22,000 Fisher report is a bouquet. Five years ago, when the school's board of trustees hired McPhail from the St. Louis area, Fisher and colleagues conducted a much more elaborate study, finding CCBC in a state of near chaos. No longer.

"In virtually every area that counts," the new report says, "CCBC is better now than it was in 1997." And again: "Dr. McPhail is clearly one of the outstanding CEOs in the nation today, and he should be thoughtfully nourished by the Board of Trustees."

Swell nourishment: McPhail has exercised a clause in his contract that pays him a year's salary, an estimated $135,000, for successfully fulfilling the five-year pact. "That was a good thing we did," said Francis X. Kelly, chairman of the board then and now. "We're going to do it again with his new contract."

There are, however, a few weeds in the bouquet. "Faculty morale is vastly superior to that we observed five years ago," says the report. But two pages later, morale is described as poor. By 47 percent to 26 percent, faculty members don't believe McPhail's administration has dealt openly with them, and only 38 percent are satisfied with the chancellor's office.

Asked to explain this seeming contradiction, both Fisher and Kelly said essentially the same thing. "You have no idea how bad it was," said Kelly of the school pre-McPhail. "You can vastly improve when you start at zero," said Fisher, a retired president of Towson University.

The report says "more visibility" of McPhail on the school's three campuses would be a "good first consideration" in improving morale. And while it praises the chancellor's "pragmatic personality," it warns subtly that "Chancellor McPhail is a dominant personality, and he must take care not to squelch or demean vigorous discussion that might challenge his current views."

In other words, try not to put people down when they disagree.

The Fisher report also recommends that the campus presidents be reduced in rank and title and that any money saved be put into instruction. (Administrative ranks increased by more than 8 percent between 2000 and last year, the report says, while the number of faculty declined by 4.6 percent.)

"There is no longer a persuasive reason why each campus should have its own sitting president," says the 40-page report. "Even the campus presidents, in more candid moments, agree with this assessment."

It's not about to happen, though. In an interview, McPhail said he won't recommend "that anything happen to the presidents. ... I created the campus presidents' role. It was a critical role at the time, and it remains a critical role," especially as the school launches a fund-raising campaign. So CCBC apparently will remain a three-campus college with a single administrator over three presidents.

The report minces no words about CCBC's Dundalk campus, which because of its small size is heavily subsidized by the Catonsville and Essex campuses, the latter only seven miles away. At a time of severe budget restrictions, CCBC is spending 60 percent more per student at Dundalk than at the other two campuses.

Close Dundalk? Not likely, given political and economic reality.

"That reality," said McPhail, "is that the citizens of Dundalk rely on the school for a full complement of services, including the education and retraining needed to survive in a tough economy. The question is not whether to close Dundalk; it's how we can maintain it in an economically responsible and managerially effective manner."

Translation: Administrative jobs and programs at Essex and Dundalk will be combined in what McPhail calls an "east-side academic strategy."

When I requested release of the report, CCBC officials at first said they would have to redact "personnel" items, and I expected a document with more blackout than readable text. To his credit, Kelly interceded. I got a report without redaction, one that provided rare insights into the operation of a 73,000- student college and its ambitious leader.

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