Concerns about governance of colleges raised at hearing on task force report; Chancellor defends handling of system


While presidents of the state's public colleges and universities reveled in the prospect of more money next year, the battle lines were being drawn over the governance of the system yesterday.

The occasion was the first legislative hearing on the report of the task force chaired by Adm. Charles R. Larson, retired head of the Naval Academy, whose 23-member group worked through the fall.

It came on the heels of the announcement that the governor would increase funding for higher education by 10 percent next year, a promise of speeding up building projects if a cigarette tax increase passes, and an expectation of more money, as recommended by the task force, in supplemental budgets.

"Adequate funding is the most important thing," said Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in an interview. "Everything else is secondary."

C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland, College Park, and Hoke Smith, president of Towson University -- who were at yesterday's hearing -- said additional money would go first for faculty and equipment.

"My top priority would be to replace the tenure-track positions we lost in previous budget cutbacks," Smith said.

The hearing before the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee's Subcommittee on Health, Education and Human Resources was filled with compliments for Larson and the task force, not surprising given that three members of the subcommittee, including chairman Gloria G. Lawlah, a Prince George's County Democrat, were members of the task force.

Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who also was a task force member, made clear her displeasure with Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, accusing the system of trying to run the 11 campuses under its jurisdiction instead of leaving that to the presidents of the institutions.

Langenberg said he expects the relationship between the system and the presidents to change now that he will not be forced to cut budgets to fit into state funding, but he protested that his office had not unduly interfered with the presidents.

"I think we have played a supportive and coordinating role," he said. "I do not think the perception has caught up to that fact."

Patricia S. Florestano, the state's higher education secretary, took issue with the report's recommendation that would strip her office -- the Maryland Higher Education Commission -- of approval power over academic programs offered at the campuses in the system.

She argued that it is unfair to make the state's private colleges, community colleges and the two public four-year schools that function outside the system -- Morgan State University and St. Mary's College -- get MHEC approval, but not those within the system.

The biggest obstacle to the Larson report's recommendations could come from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, who is most responsible for creating the task force. Miller has expressed disappointment that the report did not recommend removing UMCP from the system.

"We looked at this and we decided not to put a stick of dynamite under the system," said Sen. Robert R. Neall, an Anne Arundel County Republican and a member of the subcommittee and the task force. "I think we produced a reasonable report.

"It should get proper consideration. It's a lot easier to kill legislation down here than to pass it. I hope this doesn't get picked apart."

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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