Hollywood, MD –
Legislation making its way toward passage in the Maryland General Assembly is apparently moving like a runaway train and some Southern Maryland citizens concerned about its consequences are trying to derail it. According to a press release issued Monday, March 12 by three founding members of the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC), the proposed measure would repeal the law that established the center during 1990s and replace it with legislation that would give the University System of Maryland (USM) in College Park complete control of the facility.

“The creation of SMHEC was one of the most innovative initiatives in the region’s history and has a proven track record of nearly a quarter-century of exceptional performance that has benefited tens of thousands of Southern Maryland citizens,” the founding members stated in the press release.

One of the founding members of the SMHEC Board of Governors is former Tri-County Council executive director and board member Gary Hodge, who also served as a Charles County commissioner. Hodge stated that creating SMHEC “was one of the most progressive initiatives in the region’s history,” adding that creation of the center “grew out of the need for graduate-level education and training in technology fields, magnified by the consolidation of missions and personnel at the Patuxent Naval Air Station that were mandated by three rounds of BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure) in the 1990s.”

The measures—Senate Bill (SB) 903, sponsored by Senator Steve Waugh [R – District 29], along with the region’s two other senators(Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. [D – District 27] and Mac Middleton [D – District 28]; and House Bill (HB) 1143, sponsored by the Southern Maryland Delegation—if enacted “will transform the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center from what is currently a fully independent regional center government by a local board of governors appointed by the governor of Maryland into a third-tier University System of  Maryland regional center with only local ‘advisory board’ input to its operations and, most importantly, its advanced degree offerings,” stated Lexington Park resident Robert Randall, the first chairman of the SMHEC Board of Governors.

The bills have been dubbed the “Southern Maryland – University System of Maryland Partnership Act of 2018.” Last September the current SMHEC Board of Governors voted to merge the center with USM pending the completion of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that all parties found acceptable. A press release from USM indicated the merger is supported by the chairman of the SMHEC Board of Governors current chairman, adding that “the leadership and staff of the SMHEC and the USM, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General “have worked cooperatively to finalize an MOU” that would make the merger effective at the beginning of fiscal year 2019.

Randall stated he and other founding members are asking that the pending legislation “not be acted on right now, but rather be delayed to allow more open, forthright public discussion.” Randall added that, “many fine offerings have been provided by non-USM associated schools. In fact, the very first offeror to come to SMHEC in 1994 was Notre Dame of Maryland University, an independent institution willing to take a risk at a brand new higher education center to provide local graduate degree-leading programming to the substantial education community in Southern Maryland. That commitment by Notre Dame was instrumental in assuring the future of the SMHEC and led soon to interest by other institutions including those of the USM.”

“What’s good for Southern Maryland?” Local businessman and former SMHEC Board of Governors member Bob Parkinson asked. He said the advisory board that would replace the board of governors would answer to the center’s executive director. The USM chancellor would then select which institutions would be part of the center’s curriculum.

The USM Board of Regents’ missive on the issue stated it shall be the “principal responsibility” of the center’s advisory board “to represent the interests of the Southern Maryland community and to ensure that higher education and economic development needs of the community are being addressed in the development and operations of the center.”

“What’s the rush in passing this unnecessary and unjustified repeal of the SMHEC statute in the next four weeks of this legislative session?” Hodge asked. “What would be the harm in waiting nine months to engage the Southern Maryland community, the public and all the stakeholders, including business leaders, emerging industry sectors and major employers in an open and transparent discussion of the proposal?”

Hodge added that the issue should be the purview of the next legislative session, which will convene in January 2019, two months after the 2018 General Election.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com