Trustees of Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex community colleges yesterday named an Illinois community college president as the schools' first chancellor, whose job will be to consolidate the independent, and often competing, institutions into Maryland's largest community college system.
In a special meeting, the board unanimously approved the appointment of Daniel J. LaVista, who has headed the College of Lake County's two campuses in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Dr. LaVista, 51, described as a strong leader with a career commitment to community colleges, was chosen from four finalists for the $130,000 position.
Robert J. Kemmery, president of the local colleges' board of trustees, said Dr. LaVista "embodies the energy, expertise, leadership and vision" needed to create a unified administration without destroying the schools' individual identities.
In a phone interview, Dr. LaVista described his appointment as "a very big challenge," but also "the opportunity to create a new district that can be a leader in the state."
This year the schools will serve more than 70,000 students, including 24,000 full-time students, on an operating budget of $76 million.
The search for a chancellor began late last year, after a consultant recommended consolidating the schools' administration to eliminate the duplication of academic programs and to cut costs for services now separate for each campus.
"I envision that there will be a strong core of general education courses at each campus. We're going to target [specialized] programs to the areas where they're needed," Mr. Kemmery said.
For example, the east side of the county would have more courses related to industry, because of the area's traditional concentration of manufacturers, he said.
One of Dr. LaVista's early assignments, Mr. Kemmery said, will be to "form a vision and a five-year plan for the colleges," especially in light of limited state and local budgets that are not growing with enrollments. Mr. Kemmery noted the new chancellor's ability to attract money from grants, foundations and the Illinois legislature as one of his strong points.
The chancellor also must choose a new president for Dundalk Community College, where Dr. Harold D. McAninch has been interim president since Dr. Martha A. Smith resigned last summer. Dr. McAninch said a search committee will go to work June 21 to select finalists for the position, and when Dr. LaVista arrives, he will select the new president.
Early in his career, Dr. LaVista taught English and theater at schools in New York and throughout the Midwest. He has been an administrator at three community colleges other than Lake County.
While the Baltimore County system's trustees were confirming Dr. LaVista at a meeting that lasted about two minutes, he was announcing his departure in Illinois. He has been president for eight years at Lake County, which has campuses in Grayslake and Waukegan, on Chicago's affluent north shore.
Dr. LaVista said the Illinois college has about 15,000 full- and part-time students and an annual budget of $36 million.
Dr. LaVista, who has a three-year contract in his new job, will officially become chancellor of the county schools on Sept. 1.
Despite the misgivings of faculty and staff members concerned about losing jobs in the reorganization, Dr. LaVista said he is "confident it will work."
Presidents of the three colleges currently report directly to the board of trustees; beginning in September, they will report to Dr. LaVista and he will report to the board.
Mr. Kemmery said Dr. LaVista was rated first by all three colleges in a selection process that included a two-day visit to each campus and meetings with faculties, other staffers and community members.
The chancellor's office will not be on any of the campuses, but rather in the Towson area, said Mr. Kemmery, so as not to imply favoritism to one school. No site has been selected.