BCCC officials go after critics

President was accused of mismanagement

Disgruntled `handful' fear change

Administrators fault anger over grant fraud discovery

October 07, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Top administrators at Baltimore City Community College gathered yesterday to reject faculty charges of mismanagement by the school's new president and to allege fraud and misuse of funds by some professors.

President Sylvester E. McKay did not attend the news conference called to defend his performance, held at the college's Liberty Heights campus. Administrators said he had a conflicting commitment.

Last week, about 60 of BCCC's 125 full-time faculty met and voted 46-9 to forward a petition to the school's trustees registering their discontent with McKay, who arrived on campus last year.

The faculty said, among other things, that McKay had hired new faculty chairmen without a search, arbitrarily dismissed talented instructors and revamped the school's troubled remedial programs on short notice and without consulting faculty.

Yesterday, top administrators, joined by some faculty, staff and students, said faculty discontent was driven by a disgruntled minority who were resistant to change.

"The majority of faculty are committed to our students, but we have a handful of instructors who are used to failing our students," said Sarah Garrett, the dean of arts and sciences.

The administrators went on to say that some faculty are upset with McKay because he has uncovered instances of widespread fraud and misuse of grant funds by faculty members in recent years.

Improper disbursement

John H. Solomon, McKay's executive assistant, said grant money had "been disbursed without correct policies" and had "gone directly to the faculty for work that was not part of their scope of duties, with no formal tracking."

Solomon did not go into more detail, saying BCCC was in the process of finding an external auditor to examine faculty funds.

Yesterday's session, particularly the accusations of faculty fraud, seemed likely to heighten tensions at the college, which has about 6,300 credit-seeking students at several campuses around the city.

BCCC trustees are expected to address the faculty's concerns at the board's Oct. 17 meeting.

Last night, faculty senate president Ann Ritter dismissed the rebuttals offered at the news conference. Last week's faculty vote represented more than an aggrieved minority, she said, and faculty are not resistant to change - just to changes made without notice or discussion.

"When Dr. McKay came, we embraced him with the idea there would be changes because we knew that would be necessary," she said.

Low morale

"It's not so much what he's done, it's the timing, it's how he's done it. I've been there 30 years, and I've never seen morale like it is now," Ritter said

As for the fraud charges, Ritter said the faculty supported action against any misdeeds, but noted that administrators had to sign off on grants and should be held accountable, too.

Preparedness fears

At the heart of the tensions between McKay and the faculty are BCCC's beleaguered remedial math and reading programs. Most incoming students need the courses, but many fail them and as a result take years to graduate or else drop out.

This fall, the college introduced an expensive computer-based curriculum for its remedial classes and did away with the requirement that students pass an exit exam at the end of the semester. Administrators say this will increase the pass rate in the classes and allow more students to graduate.

But many faculty say the administration forced the computer curriculum on them without notice and without enough training. And they worry that doing away with the exit exams will allow unqualified students to pass the classes.

Also at issue is the administration's dismissal of part-time instructors who lacked 18 graduate-level credits in their subject field.

McKay says this is necessary to conform with nationwide standards, but faculty point out that the rule has disqualified several valued teachers - including two math instructors who have been honored as BCCC's "teacher of the year."

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