Community college chief asked to quit Six trustees seek LaVista's resignation at private meeting; 'Graceful way to move on'; If he refuses, board plans closed session to consider ouster

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Trustees of Baltimore County's troubled community colleges have secretly asked the embattled system chancellor, Daniel J. LaVista, to resign, board sources say.

Neither LaVista -- hired in September 1995 to unify and streamline Maryland's largest two-year college system -- nor trustees will comment publicly on the action. But The Sun has learned that trustees confronted the chancellor last week at his Towson office and sought his resignation.

"The guy is swinging in the wind," said one board member who requested anonymity. "We did this to let him down easy, allow him a graceful way to move on."

Tomorrow morning, some trustees will meet with faculty leaders to discuss the future of the system, which has campuses at Essex, Dundalk and Catonsville, and its 70,000 students -- a meeting to which LaVista has not been invited, board sources say.

And unless the 52-year-old administrator voluntarily steps down, trustees will meet tomorrow night in a closed session to discuss his ouster, board sources say. Any decision reached in that meeting would have to be made public at the regular board meeting Jan. 22.

Trustees began to press for the resignation last week, according to a state senator and others familiar with the situation.

Tuesday, six trustees met with county budget officials in Towson to gather updated information on the system's annual $76 million budget for a meeting with a representative of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and county legislators in Annapolis, the sources said.

The trustees -- Chairman Bruce J. Chaillou, Ronald G.Abe, Timothy M. Kotroco, Alan J. Ferguson, Robert J. Kemmery Jr. and John R. Schneider -- then went to the system's headquarters on Washington Avenue. They told LaVista he should resign, the sources said.

LaVista pointed out that a gathering of six members of the 10-member board constituted a quorum -- triggering a legal requirement that the public be notified -- and he asked that two trustees leave his office. Kemmery and Kotroco, closest to the door, left.

According to sources, the chancellor has two supporters on the board, Elayne Hettleman and Henry H. Stansbury; neither returned telephone calls. The other eight members of the board want LaVista to go, sources say.

'Didn't get the best'

One of LaVista's strongest critics is board Vice Chairman Thomas E. Booth, who has said that the board in its nationwide search for a chancellor "paid to get the best, and we just didn't get the best.

"His contract calls for $130,000 salary, $30,000 annual housing allowance, $30,000 car, pension plan, life insurance, medical and dental coverage for him and his family, and he wanted a raise for him and his people the last budget," Booth said. "The board is not without fault through all of this, and one of our mistakes was hiring Dan."

LaVista's contract, which runs through September 1999, has a clause calling for the board to pay him up to $100,000 if he is fired, Booth said.

Another trustee said the showdown stemmed from "irreconcilable differences" that "involve substance and involve style." One sticking point among trustees: a feeling that LaVista sided with the faculty in slowing trustee-ordered reforms.

Deborah M. Hudson, a spokeswoman for the chancellor, said, "There has been no offer made to Dr. LaVista in writing for him to resign." Later, she retracted that statement but declined to explain why, offering a brief no comment on the situation.

LaVista has hired a Wisconsin attorney to represent him in this face-off with the board, sources said.

Meanwhile, peacemaking efforts among the system's powers continue -- with LaVista conspicuously absent.

At tomorrow morning's meeting, rebellious faculty leaders, who called last month for the board to resign after trustees proposed abolishing tenure for new faculty members, will meet with board members and state Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat.

"I truly hope that it turns out to be a meaningful dialogue," said Michael Cain, a Catonsville English professor and president of the school's American Association of University Professors chapter.

'Keep the pressure on'

"I'm optimistic," Cain said. "But we're going to keep the pressure on anyway. If there is meaningful dialogue, it's because of the pressure the board has found itself under."

Margaret Guchemand, a senior Essex professor and AAUP leader, said she was "very surprised" last week when she was contacted by Abe, who met with her and other faculty leaders.

"It was very cordial, an encouraging sign," Guchemand said. But, she added, she reaffirmed the faculty commitment to the concept of shared governance.

"And it's sad to see them do this to LaVista," she said. "If they get rid of him, they are reprehensible. He did everything they wanted him to do, only not fast enough, and made the mistake of showing support of us."

Trustees were angered that LaVista offered support to faculty members fighting for continued tenure and other issues, such as summer teaching pay and sabbatical leave.

Thursday, trustees will travel to Annapolis to brief Patricia S. Florestano, Maryland's secretary of higher education, on the status of the board's relationship with the 700-member faculty. They will then meet with the county House of Delegates and Senate delegation -- which might ask trustees tough questions.

"I don't know how they can explain away their shenanigans," said state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Pikesville Democrat. "The community colleges used to be among the best in the nation, but now they are in chaos."

She said Chaillou, the board chairman, "gave me a courtesy call last week and said they had asked LaVista to resign. That could have been a violation of the state open meeting law, asking the chancellor to resign without a formal vote."

Term limits planned

Hollinger and other lawmakers plan to introduce legislation limiting trustee terms to three years. Members, who are appointed by the governor, now serve six-year terms.

While the controversy has not led trustees to consider resigning, one board member questions why unpaid volunteers must face such withering criticism.

"We do this because we truly believe it's the right thing to do, best for colleges and the citizens," said Kotroco, an attorney and deputy zoning commissioner for the county.

"I spend 10 to 15 hours a week on board business," he said. "I spent $3,000 on a computer. I don't see my wife and two young children when I come home late from meetings.

"All this controversy can cause one to question why they volunteer for a board position."

Pub Date: 1/12/97

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