BCCC board's head resigns amid dispute

Faculty members at odds with president

October 17, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The chairwoman of Baltimore City Community College's board resigned during its monthly meeting yesterday amid a heated dispute between faculty members and the school's president about his management style.

Rosetta Kerr Wilson quit without explanation at the beginning of the session. Later, the board narrowly passed a surprise 15-point resolution supporting President Sylvester E. McKay and denouncing his critics among the faculty and staff.

Wilson is a director of government relations for Comcast Cable who has served as chairwoman of the board since July 2002. Her term as trustee was scheduled to last until 2005.

"We are saddened by the loss of our board chair, who resigned effective immediately today," Winston L. Smith, the board's vice chairman said during the meeting.

Yesterday's developments happened amid growing upheaval at the college. This month, the faculty senate voted 46-9 to register its discontent with McKay in a petition to the trustee board. It accused McKay of, among other things, arbitrarily firing talented instructors and overhauling the college's remedial math and English programs without consulting faculty.

In a news conference days later, McKay supporters called the administration's critics an aggrieved minority and accused unnamed faculty members of misusing grant funds.

Yesterday, the board backed McKay's decision to fire six top administrators, eliminate dozens of other jobs and make pay changes.

Those who voted against the resolution, which passed 4-3, said they support the president but oppose voting on a proposal they had not seen before.

"I object to the process," said board member Katrina R. Riddick, who voted against the resolution.

James E. Harris Sr., the board member who drafted it, said the trustees needed to act after publicized problems at the college.

"We need to stand behind the president in public as well as behind closed doors," Harris said.

McKay made few comments during the meeting and skipped remarks when the board reached "president's report" on the agenda. In an interview after the meeting, he said, "The support is really important given the many challenges the college faces."

Faculty senate President Ann Ritter said she was disappointed about Wilson's resignation because she believed that the former chairwoman "was somewhat sympathetic to the faculty."

Wilson, who said she had to catch a plane for a business trip, and board member Neetu Dhawan-Gray left the meeting before the vote on the resolution.

Before Harris presented the statement, McKay's staff spent much of the four-hour meeting promoting recent successes at the college and plans, which include a promotional magazine, an early-learning program to help troubled high school students simultaneously earn a diploma and associate's degree through a new high school on the Liberty Campus, and constructing student and classroom facilities.

"I'm so happy that we have a new day and we've turned the corner," said board member Maceo M. Williams.

Then Harris introduced his resolution. "We recognize and fully support the president's power to make all administrative decisions of the day-to-day operations of the college, including hirings, terminations, and reassignments," the resolution states. "We recognize and fully support that the president is empowered to reorganize the college and all of its departments and divisions in a manner he deems necessary to support the vision and mission of the institution."

Most of the board members - for and against the resolution - emphasized that they would like to see improved communication among the administration and all other areas of the college, as well as the community.

"I've committed myself. I've given my heart," said board member Ellestine J. Grant. "I'm with the president come blank or high water."

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