With an apology to professors and administrators, the chancellor of Baltimore County's community colleges yesterday canceled a plan that would have forced applicants for an employee buyout to face an overnight test of endur 50-employee limit and opening the system's voluntary separation incentive plan to nearly 400 eligible instructional and administrative staff members.
"I am offering you my heartfelt apology because you had to endure the anguish you did," Dr. LaVista said. "No standing in line will be necessary."
The auditorium erupted in applause.
An earlier plan, which would have forced senior staff members to queue up as early as 12:30 a.m. Feb. 16 and wait in line until 7 a.m. when the limited number of buyout applications were to be accepted on a first-come basis, was roundly criticized by public officials.
State Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Democrat from Essex who is chairman of the county legislative delegation, called that plan "just plain nuts." Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said it stripped away people's dignity.
The Rev. Frank R. Haig, a physics professor at Loyola College and president of the Maryland conference of the American Association of University Professors, said yesterday that Dr. LaVista's decision was a "definite improvement. Dr. LaVista defused the situation and came up with a more reasonable solution."
"You can't downsize any institution without some problems," Father Haig said. "But this brought us into the whole question of faculty rights. This was a classic public relations problem and a human problem. When you have either, attracting students can be a problem."
The chancellor said new guidelines for the buyout will be offered next week. He said the system's board of trustees and county legal office approved the buyout adjustment.
Dr. LaVista also discussed plans to privatize segments of the colleges -- custodial, bookstores, security and food service -- in his mission to cut costs at a time when enrollment has dropped and state and county funding to the schools at Essex, Catonsville and Dundalk has shrunk.
He said privatization would affect as many as 140 employees, but the process will occur "only with no job losses."
A man in the audience voiced concern that those workers eventually would be replaced by lower-cost employees, however, with loyalties to the private vendors and not the colleges.
"We are talking about 140 people and their families," the man said. "They are paid wages, fringe benefits and are in a pension system. Those people are loyal and they should be protected."
Dr. LaVista said system administrators are discussing strategies with labor officials and college administrators to avoid losing system employees through privatization and to keep their benefits intact.
Janice Dykacz, a mathematics professor at Essex, raised the issue of computers, printers and software given to eight board members for use in their homes.
"Where is the money going to come from for our technology?" she asked the chancellor, who was flanked on stage by Essex Community College President Donald J. Slowinski. "We are short in the math department and need technology," she said.
Dr. LaVista defended placing computer equipment in board members' homes. He said a technology fee to be instituted at the three colleges in September will bring in an estimated $5 million dedicated to purchasing new computer equipment.
The chancellor also said he has created a post of senior director of human relations to address allegations of race and gender discrimination at the campuses.