IN its eleventh hour, a task force on revising Maryland's higher education system foundered on the rocky shoals of favoritism. Retired Adm. Charles R. Larson tried to steer by consensus in recommending changes to the governor, but ended up being thrown off course by wily politicians and educators.
It proved an unfortunate conclusion for a blue-ribbon panel that had tried diligently for months to find a better way to run the 11 campuses of the University System of Maryland.
While the group made firm and sensible recommendations to decentralize power and eliminate red tape -- giving greater flexibility to campus presidents -- it failed to address a key area for Maryland's development: science and technology.
The group recommended costly temporary fixes for the system's flagship campus at College Park and for three fast-growing but underfunded comprehensive campuses -- Towson, Bowie State and Salisbury State -- yet failed to make any monetary proposals for UMB and UMBC.
Why? In part because Admiral Larson was in a hurry -- needlessly so -- to deliver a report to Gov. Parris N. Glendening by Jan. 13, when the General Assembly convenes.
He and the other panelists were unduly influenced in the last hours of their final meeting by funding proposals from two colleagues, the presidents of Towson and College Park. Since UMB and UMBC didn't have representation on the task force, their plight was never discussed fully.
So the Larson report will go to the governor recommending as much as $9 million more for College Park, $9.4 million more for Towson, $2.6 million more for Salisbury and $1.3 million more for Bowie. Frostburg State may also benefit, depending on enrollment figures.
All of these schools have legitimate needs. It is especially important to boost the state's dominant research campus at College Park and the campus designated for the bulk of new students in the coming years, Towson.
But why slight UMBC and UMB? Both are research campuses with costly science and technology needs. They are on the cutting edge of economic growth for the Baltimore region. Ignoring their situation was a major blunder.
Fortunately, Governor Glendening can correct this omission. He has talked about giving the emerging Big Four of state universities -- College Park, UMB, UMBC and Towson -- extra financial support. Indeed, the task force's funding suggestions are so late arriving that they will have little, if any, impact on decisions already approved by the governor: Nearly all of his budget is already at the printer.
Revamping Maryland's cumbersome and unwieldy governing system for higher education is an important step. The task force did an admirable job in recommending that the Maryland Higher Education Commission be restricted to an oversight role and that more management decisions be pushed down to the campus level.
rTC It erred, though, in not taking more time to develop a funding plan that would have addressed all of the state's top education priorities.
Pub Date: 12/28/98