State seeks extension to June 30 to submit higher education plan; Draft is 'less visionary,' too specific, say critics


Maryland's secretary of higher education is asking the General Assembly to delay the April 30 deadline for submitting a new state plan for higher education after the first draft received heavy criticism from the academic community.

"From the beginning of this process, the time frame has haunted me," said Patricia S. Florestano, who acknowledged that she sought ideas from too few people while writing the initial draft.

Florestano wants to extend the deadline for the new plan to June 30 and anticipates getting legislative approval to do so.

The plan -- required by last year's legislation that overhauled the organization of higher education, upon recommendations from a commission headed by Retired Naval Academy Superintendent Charles R. Larson -- is supposed to create a blueprint that schools will follow during the next decade.

But many in the state's colleges and universities thought the first draft of the plan -- issued in February -- was too specific, and feared that it was an attempt by the Maryland Higher Education Commission to reclaim the regulatory power it had lost due to the Larson Commission recommendations.

"People felt it was less visionary, less forward-looking than we thought a state plan should be," Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said of the first draft. "It was too detailed, too regulatory "

The lengthy plan emphasized schools' meeting the economic needs of the state, such as training high-tech workers and teachers.

"It focused on providing standards against which things could be measured by an auditor," Langenberg said. "Nobody ever followed an auditor to national eminence."

Since the first draft was issued, a group of campus presidents and other higher education officials has been meeting with Florestano to create a second draft.

Critics of the initial plan ranged from school presidents to faculty.

"It was pretty much into micro-managing on the campus level," said Catherine R. Gira, president of Frostburg State University.

Said Jack Fruchtman Jr., president of the faculty senate at Towson University: "It seemed to suggest that many of the institutions become what I would call vocational-technical schools, basically destroying what a university or college is supposed to be."

C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland, College Park, said the plan omitted some things: "It saw no role for the research university, something that should be of concern to College Park, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, Baltimore."

Florestano said the plan needs to be somewhat detailed because it will be used to write specific mission statements for each state school. Under the Larson Commission legislation, as long as a school is judged to be in compliance with the goals of its mission statement, it would be freed from jumping through regulatory hoops to institute new programs.

"There are ways to build accountability into the plan without MHEC basically dictating exactly what every institution has to do," said Gregory L. Geoffrey, provost at UMCP.

Said Mote: " If those doing the planning don't buy into [the plan], it's not going to be effective."

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