House delegation rejects bill on Harford school

Measure sought changes to college trustee board

February 13, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A tense meeting yesterday of the Harford Community College board of trustees and county legislative delegation revealed deep divisions on how to address unrest on the school's campus.

A closely divided House delegation rejected Republican Del. Joanne S. Parrott's bill to change the size of the board and duties of some members. But Republican Sen. Nancy Jacobs said after the vote that she would revive the bill in the Senate.

Jacobs also said she intends to introduce a bill to dissolve the board unless its president, Bernard Barnes, resigns.

"I am calling for him to step down," Jacobs said.

This week, college President Claudia Chiesi announced her intention to retire at the end of the year, a move that Republican Del. Barry Glassman, the delegation chairman, said offers an opportunity for healing.

"In light of the recent announcement," he said, "I think it is important that we continue to move forward in a positive way."

The legislative delegation became involved in matters at the college late last year, after members began receiving letters from several dozen faculty and staff members raising concerns about changes in course assignments, evaluations and governance of the Churchville campus.

But more serious allegations involve claims of retaliation against faculty and staff members -- all unnamed -- who were critical of the board's and president's policies.

"That is so serious an allegation," said Democratic Del. Mary-Dulany James. "What I haven't seen is a thorough review."

Parrott, who likened the complaints to a "cancer across the campus," said she first raised questions about the situation at a trustees meeting in September and has not gotten answers from Barnes or Chiesi.

But Parrott acknowledged yesterday, when asked by the trustees, that she has not tried to talk with Chiesi or department supervisors about the "heavy tote bag" of letters she has received.

Trustee Howard McComas, who joined the board last year, said the group is frustrated by lawmakers' demands to deal with complaints they know few specifics about.

"You don't make a case based on what you've heard," he said.

Barnes said the board is taking steps to correct some problems on campus, including having a time for public comments at its monthly meetings and considering reinstatement of the Faculty Council dismantled by the president and board two years ago.

Barnes urged lawmakers to "sort out the facts" of the complaints and not go with "gut reactions."

He pointed out that the all-volunteer trustee board is not involved in daily campus matters and relies on the president and her staff to carry out board policies.

"That's been carried out in the past 10 years in an exemplary fashion," he said.

Glassman said that the delegation did not relish being involved in matters at the college and that the delegation became involved only after faculty members felt their concerns were being rebuffed by the trustees.

Although several delegates spoke of their responsibility to represent their constituents in matters such as this one, James urged them not to rush to judgment.

"These people are your constituents, too," James said of the board. "We need to make informed decisions."

Republican Dels. Charles R. Boutin and Susan K. McComas also voiced support for resolving the problems on campus, rather than in Annapolis.

They were joined by Republican Del. J.B. Jennings and James in voting against Parrott's bill, which would have added a faculty and student representative, and removed the college president as secretary-treasurer of the board.

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