University of Maryland President John S. Toll vowed yesterday to keep fighting for an overhaul of the state's higher education system, even though the Schaefer administration has abandoned the idea.
Toll said he plans to keep trying to persuade Schaefer to endorse the creation of a new, powerful board of regents that would govern all 13 of the state's public colleges and universities -- a proposal designed by the majority of Maryland college presidents and espoused by Gov. William Donald Schaefer for the last several months.
This week, however, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg -- whom the governor had assigned to design a new higher education plan for the coming General Assembly session -- said he has decided simply to make a few changes in the state's college system and to spend a lot more money on the schools.
The 11-year-old state college system, described by critics as unwieldy, features four boards that govern the 13 public colleges and universities, plus a state agency that coordinates them, along with the community colleges, private colleges and for-profit trade schools.
Schaefer has said he believes the system has permitted wasteful duplication of academic programs at nearby campuses and lacked the power to secure big enough state subsidies for the schools to excel.
Steinberg has agreed the system should be streamlined. But after months of discussions with key legislators, he said he concluded that the consolidation plan could never pass the General Assembly because it had created so much dissension from various factions -- including private colleges, community colleges and black legislators.
Yesterday, Toll refused to accept that conclusion and said he was seeking another meeting with Schaefer and Steinberg to continue pressing for the plan.
"I hope that the legislature would want what is the best arrangement for higher education," Toll said in an interview. "I think the proposal we have put forward is the best arrangement."
Other college presidents said they, too, were startled and disappointed that their plan, previously embraced by Schaefer, had abruptly been dropped.
"We've given what we think is our collective best advice," said H. Mebane Turner, president of the University of Baltimore and one of the plan's strongest supporters. "I still think it is the best way to go."
"I'd be lying if I didn't say I was disappointed," said Thomas Bellevance, president of Salisbury State College. "It looks like the momentum for the presidents' plan has been aborted."
The presidents began to design a new method of governing colleges last spring, after Schaefer challenged them to come up with a plan that would make the schools more efficient and more accountable to him.
Schaefer's challenge unleashed an impassioned but technical debate among college administrators, faculty members and state politicians. They have been arguing over how schools should be clustered under governing boards and who should be given the power, for instance, to hire and fire presidents, set budgets and decide whether a school may start new academic majors.
Toll, in a statement released yesterday, said the plan, endorsed by 11 of the state's 13 college and university presidents, "offers great advantages to the state, including clear delineation of authority and responsibility, optimum use of the state's resources, reduction of duplication, and simplification of the overall structure." He did, however, praise Steinberg for recommending that the state add $50 million to its higher education budget, which is now about $615 million.
While most college presidents were disappointed, the lieutenant governor's new strategy elated the presidents of Morgan State University, a predominantly black university in Baltimore, and St. Mary's College, a small, liberal arts school in Southern Maryland. Each has a separate governing board, and the presidents argued a consolidation would rob their campuses of their distinct identities and hinder their growth.