FREDERICKSBURG, VA., JUNE 3 -- The director of Virginia's State Council of Higher Education called today for establishment of a state university west of Fairfax County to accommodate burgeoning growth in Washington's outer suburbs.
Gordon K. Davies recommended that the new university be opened by the late 1990s, probably along I-66. He said the new university should not be a satellite campus of an existing school, such as George Mason University. Davies' recommendation may clash with George Mason's proposal to open a campus in Prince William County.
The new university would have to be approved by the Virginia General Assembly, which will take into account a recommendation by the state council, an 11-member advisory group that is appointed by the governor.
Davies made his proposal in a speech to the council, outlining a range of recommendations for major changes in Virginia's higher education system, whose reputation has grown from backwater to prominence during Davies' decade in the job.
The recommendations include a major curriculum overhaul, adoption of tougher admissions standards, publication of a consumer guide to state colleges, restrictions on increases in student fees and granting of tax exemptions to parents for higher education savings accounts.
In a paper accompanying his speech, Davies said the new university, offering undergraduate and probably graduate programs, would serve an area that soon will contain "the economic equivalent of a large city," and provide higher education for the northwest corner of the state.
In an interview, Davies said the university would serve the rapidly developing area near Manassas and north of Fredericksburg. It would echo George Mason University's emphasis on high technology and cultural activities, and attempt to attract a large proportion of commuting students, he said.
Davies rejected the idea of a satellite campus because "generally speaking, branch campuses are perceived as inferior to main campuses" and "generally speaking, they are." In addition, he said, George Mason should top out at an enrollment of 20,000 full-time students, not enough to accommodate the regional growth.
George Mason has 11,655 full-time students on its 570-acre campus, just outside Fairfax City, and in its Arlington law school.
The two council members from Northern Virginia said they could not make a judgment on the merits of Davies' proposed university, which the council will consider at its annual retreat in September.
But they agreed that Northern Virginia's growth will bring demands for more educational opportunities. "There's a real need as the economic successes occur," said council Chairman Stanley E. Harrison, president and chief operating officer of the BDM Corp. in McLean. The other Northern Virginian on the council is lawyer Abe J. Spero of Falls Church.
The proposed university drew tentative support from state Del. Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "As we continue to grow, we're going to need something else," she said. "There probably should be something that is completely different."
Del. David G. Brickley (D-Woodbridge) said he "would be inclined to support" the idea of a new university, but "I don't want anything to jeopardize the move of George Mason University into Prince William County."
George Mason Senior Vice President J. Wade Gilley said today that school officials would go along with plans for a sister university to the west as long as it shared a governing board with the Fairfax school, because the two would have similar goals. But Gilley said a new school would not be needed until the next century, because George Mason may not reach 20,000 full-time students for 20 years.
Gilley said George Mason would resist proposals to cancel its proposed Prince William campus, which it hopes to open by spring 1989 on the grounds of Northern Virginia Community College in Manassas.
Davies' other proposals included:
A study of college curriculum in which "everything is up for question." Adoption of tougher college admissions standards, requiring 22 academic credits, rather than 20. Most students applying to selective schools receive 22 credits anyway, according to Fairfax County officials. Restrictions on increases in mandatory student fees that underwrite athletic programs and student government, but that may make college unaffordable for some. The council has no authority to cut fees. Exemption from state taxes on parents' savings accounts set up for their children's higher education.