At his introductory press conference in Towson last week, Daniel J. LaVista sounded all the right notes when he spoke of eliminating waste and consolidating services.
Those will be his main tasks by necessity as he assumes the newly created position of chancellor of Baltimore County's three community colleges later this summer. Maryland's largest network of two-year schools has badly needed streamlining, particularly given that Baltimore County was the only U.S. jurisdiction whose community colleges were run by separate presidents and administrations. Not surprisingly, the system has been victimized by duplication and other forms of mismanagement.
Also, as community college has become an increasingly popular choice for many types of students and enrollment at the Catonsville, Essex and Dundalk campuses has ballooned, the three schools have had to absorb a series of financial blows. From 1988 to 1994, the county's contributions to the colleges dropped by about 20 percent. The amount of state aid has likewise declined. These reductions, combined with the enrollment growth, have caused student costs to double during the past two decades.
The system's board of trustees hired a consultant last year to study the three colleges and propose methods for an overhaul. Under the arrangement recommended by the consultant, each college will continue to have its own president. They will answer, however, to Dr. LaVista. He, in turn, will report to the board of trustees.
This approach can work only if the chancellor makes it clear he is calling the shots. Otherwise, the presidents could slide back into their separatist ways, causing more of the bureaucratic confusion that got the system in trouble in the first place.
Other immediate concerns the new chancellor must address include the aftermath of the Essex administration's rebuke by a national professors association for the allegedly unjust firing of four faculty members and the vacancy in the president's office at Dundalk Community College.
All indications are that the 51-year-old Dr. La-Vista, an experienced educator and administrator, is up to the job. Colleagues describe him as a strong-willed yet compassionate leader, an excellent fund-raiser and a good communicator, befitting someone with a background in English, speech and theater. He will need these skills and more as he takes over a network of colleges that has had its share of troubles in recent years.