State agency audit criticizes the actions of BCCC trustees


The state agency that oversees Maryland's colleges and universities has found questionable hiring practices and a culture of "pervasive paranoia" at Baltimore's troubled community college and recommends that state lawmakers limit the authority of the school's trustees.

The findings are included in an audit by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which has been reviewing Baltimore City Community College since summer. The school's president resigned in May after a report by the nonprofit Abell Foundation criticized BCCC's academic performance. The campus has the lowest graduation and transfer rate of any two-year college in the state.

The MHEC audit is scheduled to be released Monday. A copy was obtained by The Sun.

The audit is especially critical of the college's 11-member board of trustees.

BCCC, which has about 26,000 students, is the only community college in Maryland that is run by the state. And because state law places few limits on the school's board of trustees, some effectively ran the college for several months and helped foster a fearful environment, the audit found.

State Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, a Baltimore Democrat, said yesterday that he and other members of the city delegation will sponsor legislation to clearly define the trustees' power. "They can't be hiring and firing and such things," Hughes said. "We'll put in a bill to address that and make sure they are like every other college."

Richard M. Turner III, the school's interim president, declined to answer questions yesterday. Dorothea T. Colvin, the vice president of institutional advancement, declined to answer questions but read a statement. "We have an opportunity to take corrective action," she said.

The audit was written by MHEC administrators after they visited the school in August. They concluded that BCCC was a disorganized institution where administrators were constantly being fired or resigning. "As a result, the College has had difficulty in maintaining consistency in its level of operations and communication has been ineffective and almost ceased," the report says.

The administrative void led to questionable hiring practices, the audit found. In fall 2002, the school had 122 full-time faculty members, a slight increase since 1994. During the same period, the number of part-time faculty increased from 275 to 460, the biggest increase of any community college in Maryland, according to the audit.

"This steep increase in part-time faculty raises questions of adequate supervision and academic quality controls," the audit states.

The disorder worsened after President Sylvester E. McKay resigned in May, according to the audit. Three vice presidents assumed day-to-day responsibility while school officials searched for a replacement, but most decisions were being made by James E. Harris Sr., the chairman of the school's board of trustees, the report says.

Harris "established an office in the presidential suite on the Liberty campus and reviewed the day-to-day activities of not only the three vice presidents but also of other administrators," the audit said.

Harris, who has since resigned from the board, said yesterday that he deferred to the vice presidents. "They were running the school," he said.

After reviewing the board's conduct, MHEC officials concluded that the trustees did not break any laws. "But they overstepped the bounds of good procedure and we'd like to make sure that doesn't happen again," said Calvin W. Burnett, the state secretary of higher education.

Three new trustees have been added since August. "It seems like they're working to turn things around," Burnett said.

The report found that the turbulence has had a poor effect on faculty morale. There was a "pervasive paranoia among faculty and staff to which the Team was repeatedly exposed. Many faculty and staff were afraid to voice opinions in public forums for fear of retribution and firing," the report states.

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