Bush official may fill state job

Ehrlich said to express interest in Haynes taking higher education post

April 18, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is leaning toward naming a Bush administration official to be Maryland's next secretary of higher education, college sources said yesterday.

The state's 12-member Higher Education Commission is charged with sending nominations to the governor for the $120,000 position. But commission officials and others say Ehrlich has already expressed his preference for one likely nominee, Leonard L. Haynes III, an adviser in the U.S. Department of Education's post-secondary division who once served as interim president of Grambling University in Louisiana.

Haynes was a vice president at Grambling and came close to becoming the permanent president of the historically black college in 1998 after serving as its interim leader for five months. Previously, he served in the first Bush administration and as an assistant to the president of American University.

"He's a wonderful guy, very smart and with a terrific sense of humor," said Goucher College President Sanford J. Ungar, who was dean of American University's school of communications when Haynes was there. "He has very good values, he has balanced perspective and he doesn't fall for cheap political arguments."

Haynes, 56, did not return calls seeking comment. An Ehrlich spokesman declined to confirm the selection.

The current secretary, Karen R. Johnson, has indicated she will step down shortly to allow Ehrlich to name his own secretary.

Higher education leaders have been watching Ehrlich for signs of what direction he will take with the 80-employee, $6 million agency that coordinates all post-secondary education in Maryland, from private and public four-year colleges to community colleges and trade schools.

The agency's duties include managing the state's financial aid programs, collecting enrollment and graduation data, and overseeing academic offerings to prevent duplication.

In recent years, the agency has come under some criticism for not clamping down more on the spread of unnecessary academic programs. Critics say it has only blocked programs that threatened to duplicate offerings at the state's historically black colleges, which are protected under a desegregation agreement between the state and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

Critics of the agency, including some lawmakers, also question whether its duties overlap with those of the central office of the University System of Maryland, which oversees most of the state's public four-year colleges. That office employs about 100 people at a cost of $11 million.

Ehrlich said early in his term that his staff would review the higher education bureaucracy once the legislative session was over. Higher education leaders have been waiting to see whether that meant a possible downsizing of the agency or an attempt to strengthen its mission.

Yesterday, former Towson University President Hoke L. Smith, who will join the agency's board in July, said Ehrlich's likely selection of a well-credentialed administrator like Haynes suggests the governor hopes to reinvigorate the agency.

"He is interested in beefing up" the commission, Smith said.

Issues confronting the agency, Smith said, include improving access to higher education for high school graduates at a time when many public colleges are becoming more selective.

"That question is a significant one with a lot of implications that [the agency] should handle because the whole thing cannot be resolved in the University System of Maryland," he said.

Johnson, who was appointed by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 2000, has been credited with helping to implement the desegregation agreement and to win increases in higher education funding before the economic downturn.

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