The president of an American college or university serves in a most precarious situation . . . caught between rising expectations of accountability and declining flexibility of action. -
Barry Munitz, "Presidential Evaluation: An Assessment of Institutional Leadership."
When Montgomery Community College President William C. Strasser Jr. took a few weeks off last year to write a proposal for a new system of decision-making at the college, he introduced his report with the above quotation. It seemed to sum up a five-year conflict at the college - a conflict that led his faculty to twice vote for his resignation.
Strasser's standing with the faculty apparently has not improved.
The Washington Post has learned recently that the faculty is preparing to release the results of another poll. This time the faculty has voted overwhelmingly to urge the college Board of Trustees not to renew Strasser's contract, which expires June 1979.
Whether or not Strasser continues as college president following the expiration of his contract rests in the hands of the board, which in the past has supported him.
Strasser, who has been with the college for 12 years, said he has not decided if he wants to remain at the college after his contract expires. In the meantime, Strasser has requested that a search committee for another president be created and that his name be included in the list of prospective candidates.
Recently, a Middle States evaluation team, which studies college facilities for accreditation, visited the Rockville campus.
The team reported last month, among other things that the "central administration and faculty need to increase the spirit of compromise."
The team also found that the Rockville faculty was "eminently sound" and "dedicated" to its work, but the campus was plagued by poor faculty morale and bad communications between faculty and administration.
The committee also said the Board of Trustees had been spending too much time with the daily operations of the college. The committee suggested that it was a bad idea for Jean Ross, board chairman, to have an office on campus and recommended that this practice be stopped.
Ross, who has served two terms on the board, has also been criticized by some of the faculty, who says she has "dominated the board's decision-making process." She said she is considering leaving her post when her term expires in June 1979.
"I think it's time for a change," explained Ross, who has served on the board since 1969.
Faculty members - who are among the highest paid professors in Maryland - say the long-running conflict is having an adverse effect on the college because it is diverting their attention from students and delaying administrative decisions.
Donald Day, a physics professor, complained to a reporter: "I'm finding I am drained when I have to go teach my students. I am on so many committees that haven't gone anywhere. It's depressing, and I feel depressed when I talk to my students in the morning."
One example of an issue that has strained relations between the faculty and Strasser, is the recent dispute over a proposed calendar that would force school the day after Thanksgiving and would reduce the number of final exam days by one.
A professor at the Rockville campus, who asked not to be named, said, "Sure, i admit we are a little paranoid." He complained that Strasser did not listen to the faculty and that the Board of Trustees did not use common sense in making its decisions.
Strasser, 49, says his main problems stem from the rapid growth of the college. It has expanded from one campus at Takoma Park to a second campus at Rockville and a brand new one at Germantown. The college now has about 15,000 students.
The development of these three campuses and the future expansion needs of the college, acccording to Strasser, has changed his role as college president. He says the faculty does not realize the implications of the college growth and its impact on his role.
"I can't count all of the letters that come across my desk from country, state and federal agencies," he said. "Each one of them has deadlines and if I don't take care of these responsibilities . . . the community college will have less money and less educational impact in the future.
"I often look out of my office window and see both students and faculty enjoying today - I worked for that four or five years ago . . . I sometimes envy them, but If I were to concern myself with the here and now they probably would not have a bright future."
Part of the problem, Strasser says, is that the college faculty still perceives the college as a single campus. He says each campus now has a separate personality and requires autonomous decision-making by the deans who run them.
Yet, he says, faculty members insist on bringing their problems directly to him rather than relying on his administrative staff. Reeling off statistics and the details of college operation and growth, Stasser said decision often are delayed because he has to send the faculty problems back to his staff to get their opinions.
The view of faculty members is that they have to go to Strasser because he has not delegated decision-making responsibilities to his subordinates. They claim that the subordinates, who are appointed by the president with no tenure, are afraid to act.
Strasser has proposed a new system for the college that would define and formalize the decision-making powers of his deans.
The proposal itself, according to faculty members, has helped perpetuate the conflict because the president has not asked for his opinions. While the faculty supports giving additional authority to the deans: "He hasn't talked to us to find out what we feel," said Carla Oviatt, chairman of the faculty senate.
Montgomery Community College, the oldest community college in Maryland, was founded in 1947 at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. It later moved to the Takoma Park site of the Bliss Electrical School.
In 1947, the college sought to meet the needs of the sprawling county by constructing the Rockville campus, which became the central administration headquarters of the college.
In recent years, the Rockville campus, too, has been outgrown, with about 10,000 students, more than 35,000 courses and nearly 750 faculty positions.
This growth, coupled with projected housing and commercial development along the I-270 corridor, prompted the construction of the 198-acre Germantown campus, which is expected to open this fall.
The Takoma Park campus, which has just over 2,000 students, is the headquarters of the college health career program. It has a number of light green, metal-walled buildings that resemble factory warehouses. The attitude of most of the Takoma Park students interviewed was that they preferred their campus to Rockville because students at Takoma Park are "more serious about studying."
The new dean at the Takoma Park campus, Jefferson Ware - who came to the campus about a month ago - says his students are more oriented toward technical fields than Rockville students, who seem to focus on the liberal arts.
He said people at the Takoma Park campus also are less concerned about the Strasser conflict than those at the Rockville campus. Both students and faculty at Takoma Park, according to Ware, have had more serious concerns, such as "whether or not the Takoma Park campus was going to exist."
Ware said that in recent years there had been strong community pressure to stop expansion of the Takoma Park campus. Stasser said there had been some debate as to whether "we would continue with the Takoma Park campus after the Germantown campus was proposed."
The battle concerning the existence of the Takoma Park campus is over now, according to Ware, who says neither the problems at Rockville nor the construction of the Germantown branch will affect his campus.
The Germantown campus, the newest addition to to the college, already has developed its own identity. As construction has proceeded on the large site, students have been attending classes in temporary extension centers such as high schools in the Germantown area, according to a report by Dean Stanley M. Dahlman.
The $15-million campus will include more than 144,000 square feet of space for classrooms, laboratories, a library, cafeteria, bookstore and a physical education center.
This new campus, complete with swimming pools, archery ranges and room for expansion, has been opposed by Rockville professors who believe the new campus will drain their campus of resources, faculty and administrators.
At Rockville, where the triangular-shape administration building has been dubbed "the pointless triangle" by disgrunted faculty members, voices raise and teeth grind when Strasser is mentioned.
When students, however, were asked about the problem between the president and the faculty many of them replied: "What problem?" or, "Who is the college president?"
These students who see the campus issues centering around "getting alochol in the student center" or "parking problems," appear to have little concern about the facutly problems with the administration.
In fact, some students seemed more concerned about their studies than anything else. When one students told a reporter that the college had recently invited Cicely Tyson to speak on the Rockville campus, a student sitting nearby said, "Cicely Tyson? Who's that? It sounds like pizza."
Another students, who had a puzzled expression, on his face remarked: "I've heard that name before, I just can't place who it is . . ."
Developing study habits, according to one Takoma Park student, is a chief benefit of attending a community college before enrolling in a university: "I was a D student in high school and now I'm an A student at Takoma Park. My study habits have improved and now I'm ready to transfer to the University of Maryland."
Students at Montgomery Community College - who come from families whose average education is among the highest in the country - are transfer-oriented, according to college officials. They say these students will graduate from the community college and usually continue their educations at other institutions of higher learning.
College officials say some students have gone on to a number of prestigious academic institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Students, who cite lower costs and smaller class sizes as important benefits to the college, pay $23 per credit hour, which is slightly less than the tuition costs at the University of Maryland.