ANNAPOLIS, DEC. 7 -- Maryland Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg told a Senate committee today that any plan to reorganize the state's higher education system would recognize that the University of Maryland at College Park will remain the "flagship" university of the state.

Steinberg vigorously defended the College Park campus in an appearance before the Senate Economic and Environmental Matters Committee, which will consider the higher education reorganization package being prepared by the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer. But his short talk before the committee showed that any plan put forth by the administration will have to overcome regional prejudices and questions about whether reorganization will cure the system's problems.

Steinberg set out to dismiss worries on the College Park campus that creating a governance board to rule on all higher education decisions would mean a downgrading of the importance of the state's largest campus.

"The concerns raised at College Park are valid concerns," Steinberg said. But he said it is "paramount in our deliberations that we make certain that College Park retains its status."

Sen. Michael J. Collins (D-Baltimore) said he hoped the plan would not make a "sacred cow" of College Park, which he described as mediocre." He said there is a pressing need for a new comprehensive university in Baltimore and that it should be a priority.

Steinberg, who also said a comprehensive university is needed in Baltimore, nevertheless disagreed. "I'm saying to you, sir, that College Park is the flagship . . . and we intend to do everything possible to see it gets into the top 10."

Other senators were just as worried about their areas. Sen. Idamae Garrott (D-Montgomery) said her constituents in the Washington suburbs were worried about the implications for neighboring College Park. "I think {Steinberg's testimony} is very reassuring," she said.

Steinberg said the administration wants the governing board to make the tough decisions about higher education rather than "part-time legislators and non-educators."

But some legislators said that money, not structure, is the problem. "Why do we have to upset the whole thing?" asked Sen. John Bambacus, a Republican from Western Maryland. "Why can't money take care of it?"

And Sen. Paula Hollinger (D-Baltimore County) said the administration had not shown specific problems that would be solved by changing the structure.