Political Control

Your article about the complaints raised about the new Prince George's Community College president's compensation (May 8) shows how politically controlled PGCC is. County Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp's complaint about the package and threat to cut the budget is laughable for a couple of reasons.

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By the way, the true compensation being paid outgoing President Robert I. Bickford should include his undocumented expense account(s) and his annuity, which your article did not include. Second, Estepp knows the county has consistently underfunded PGCC in the past, so to cut more from the budget would be further hurting the students and citizens of the county. The real complaint, as your article intimated, is that the new president is not politically correct.

Under Bickford, PGCC has been little more than an appendage of the Democrat political machine in Prince George's County. The politically connected candidate was Beatrice P. Tignor. However, the board had the courage to select the best person rather than the "connected" person. The history of the college indicates the pols won't give up easy. Twice before in the history of PGCC, boards made similar decisions only to see their choices forced from office within two years because the presidents made decisions in the best interest of the college, which the pols did not like.

The noise Estepp, state Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and the three board members who voted against the new president are making sounds ominous and like the first steps to get even and get what they want, namely Tignor. The salary issue is blatantly transparent.

People have asked me why politicians want to control a college. The answer is there are many benefits they get plus, in the case of community colleges, they can protect their own budgets by keeping the community college small. First, community colleges have many contracts with companies, including, at times, large construction contracts. If the pols control the college, these contracts go to friends and contributors. Secondly, there are many jobs available at the college, opening the door to patronage. Third, the college can provide free meeting space, degrees and prestige to pols. . . .

The pols also want to protect their budgets. The state community college law requires counties to pay a part of the student costs, so the more students, the more the county has to pay. While this amount is a drop in the bucket in the county budget, many county officials and many local politicians fight to keep it lower. In short, the pols want as few students as possible at the college so they don't have to pay for more.

Let me give a concrete example. In the late 1960s, the PGCC board had a national consulting firm do a master plan for the college. The plan envisioned three campuses eventually, one in the center (Largo), one in the south (Clinton) and one in the north. I might add here that the state pays 50 percent of the site and construction costs.

PGCC purchased a beautiful 250-acre campus in Clinton with state matching funds and began planning for the second campus. The state approved the second campus and set aside funds to begin construction. At the proper time, the voters of Prince George's County were asked to vote approval for the county to issue bonds to pay for its half of the costs. The measure was approved by the voters on a ballot where other bond issues were rejected. Even though a prestigious consulting firm, the board, the state and the voters all approved the second campus, Winfield M. Kelly Jr., then county executive, and the pols killed the campus by refusing to issue the bonds. Why? Because they were afraid it would cost them some money and lead to more growth at the college. How's that for serving the public interest? In Prince George's, I have found many pols serve their own interests first and the public's second, if at all. And why didn't the board and president complain about the pols killing the second campus? Because the pols appoint and control them. Presidents and board members who oppose the pols get fired! I'm living proof of it, and I can give several other examples.

So PGCC has one crowded campus, which is too far away for some students to reach, while Montgomery County has three campuses and Baltimore County has four. PGCC has been badly underfunded while other counties fully fund and promote their community colleges. Prince George's, which needs a community college more than most counties because of its population characteristics, is not as well served, resulting in many students not having the opportunities students in other counties have and all because of the selfishness of the pols.

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They say politics and education don't mix, and the sages are right, but in Prince George's County, we're still trying to mix them.

-- L. James Harvey, PhD

Upper Marlboro

Harvey was president of Prince George's Community College from July 1971 to November 1972.

The Prince George's Extra welcomes Letters to the Editor. In a few weeks, we will run a page of letters to the school board's choice for Prince George's school superintendent, Iris T. Metts. Let us know what you think Metts should do to improve county schools. Fax to 301-952-1397; e-mail to pgextra@washpost.com; or write to Letters to the Editor, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772. Please include your full name, address and a daytime telephone number.