Community college chief in Balto. Co. is fired LaVista is dismissed for siding with faculty over consolidation

THE BALTIMORE SUN

While dozens of faculty members picketed outside, the trustees of Baltimore County's community colleges fired Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista last night and appointed an interim chief.

After a closed-door, 90-minute session, the board said that "by a substantial majority" it had terminated LaVista's nearly $200,000 contract as of midnight last night.

In his place, the board appointed Harold D. McAninch, a veteran educator and former college president.

In a two-page statement, the trustees said their decision was based on "irreconcilable differences between the board and LaVista on a number of issues, including the scope and direction of the reorganization process and related budgetary issues."

"We appreciate Dr. LaVista's efforts during the initial stages of reorganizing Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex community colleges," the statement said.

However, the 10-member board, chaired by businessman Bruce J. Chaillou, said:

"As we progressed toward the second phase of the reorganization process, there occurred serious policy disagreements with Dr. LaVista to the degree that he lost the confidence of the board and Baltimore County officials responsible for overseeing the fiscal management of the community college system."

At the heart of the dispute is LaVista's support of faculty complaints that the reorganization is too hasty and that trustees have ignored faculty input.

Details of the firing and any proposed settlement with LaVista were not divulged last night.

He had two years remaining on his contract. It called for close to $200,000 annually, including salary and fringe benefits. Board Vice Chairman Thomas E. Booth said LaVista's request for raises for himself and his executive staff was rejected during the most recent budget process.

McAninch, the board said, "brings an impressive background in higher education to this position, including knowledge of our system, having previously served as interim president at Dundalk Community College."

The board said, "He understands the dynamics of the reorganization process and has earned exceptional credibility with educators and faculty."

LaVista's firing was strongly opposed by two of the trustees, Elayne Hettleman and Henry H. Stansbury, who left hurriedly after the meeting without comment.

The removal of LaVista, 52, angered faculty members who came to the system's headquarters in Towson last night to voice their support for him.

Among them was Ann Kaiser Stearns, a psychology professor at Essex Community College and author of several best-selling books on changes in the work environment.

"This whole process of removing Dr. LaVista has been very disillusioning," she said. "I've never struggled so hard in my professional life as I have with the reorganization. This [reorganization] has been crammed down our throats."

LaVista was hired in September 1995 to consolidate the three independent campuses at Essex, Dundalk and Catonsville. The system -- the largest for two-year colleges in Maryland -- serves 70,000 full- and part-time students and has a $76 million annual budget.

Since arriving in Baltimore County from Illinois, where he was president of a two-campus system, LaVista has been criticized by college employees and public officials, including County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III and several County Council members.

For example, a first-come, first-served early-retirement plan was unveiled a year ago, requiring senior employees to line up at after midnight for nearly seven hours to qualify for benefits.

With the board's approval, he also rented and remodeled the expensive headquarters in Towson to be nearer to public officials. But many of them later complained that they were never invited to the headquarters.

LaVista apologized later for, and canceled, the first-come, first served early-retirement plan. The Towson headquarters also might be abandoned; board members are examining ways to move the executive staff to the college campuses.

But it was LaVista's support of the faculty during the second phase of the system's reorganization that upset many board members, trustees have said, leading to last night's ouster.

As support for him waned on the board, LaVista refused to comment publicly. He reportedly has hired a lawyer from Wisconsin and recently forecast to board members a dramatic decline in enrollment because of the controversy in the system.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Michael J. Collins met for 90 minutes yesterday with faculty leaders in his Essex office to "dispel thoughts that I control the board."

"We went over their thoughts about the reorganization, and they seemed to feel the board was acting hastily when the faculty subcommittees won't have reports on issues like tenure until April.

"I think they felt better that discussions are going on, and I offered to act as a facilitator anytime, anywhere," Collins said.

Michael Cain, an English professor at Catonsville Community College who participated in the meeting, called the gathering "sheer lunacy."

Cain, who also is president of Catonsville's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said Collins spoke for nearly an hour, "dominated the meeting and when we started to talk about how we need more full-time teachers, he called me an ignoramus and threatened to cancel the meeting."

Pub Date: 1/14/97

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