Skip to main content
Education Government & Politics

Memo: Higher Education Commission leaders urge institutions to ‘pause’ new degree proposals if an objection is raised

Holmes Hall at Morgan State University in Baltimore. photo by jonbilous.

Two of the new leaders of the Maryland Higher Education Commission are suggesting that colleges and universities in the state pause their pursuit of new degree programs if another institution objects.

The suggestion — from Acting Secretary Sanjay K. Rai and Commission Chair Catherine “Cassie” Motz — comes after Morgan State University’s leader challenged the creation of a new business program at Towson University, which was ultimately approved. It also comes as the commission is undergoing a transformation, which includes new leadership and a legislative review of its policies.

“While we strongly encourage this voluntary pause when an objection is received, it is by no means required,” Rai and Motz wrote in a one-page memo dated Tuesday. “However, it may lead to greater opportunities for Maryland’s students with an improved process over the long term.”

Gov. Wes Moore (D) appointed Rai in April and Motz on Monday.

The memo, obtained by Maryland Matters, was sent to the commission’s Segmental Advisory Council, which conducts monthly meetings to review and assess higher education topics and receives correspondence and other information from the secretary and other education officials. The memo was circulated to institutional leaders and other higher education representatives throughout the state.

The break in contested program approvals is recommended as a workgroup comprised of state lawmakers and higher education officials is expected to suggest changes to improve the commission’s approval process.

“The Moore-Miller administration is strongly committed to bringing equity in the board’s decision-making processes,” Rai said in a statement Wednesday. “To that end, MHEC looks forward to working side-by-side with university partners and legislative stakeholders on the workgroup.”

The Workgroup for Improving the Academic Approval Process was established this year after the legislature approved House Bill 200, the budget bill.

It requires the secretary of the commission and four lawmakers from the legislature’s committees on House Appropriations, Senate Budget and Taxation and Senate Education, Energy and the Environment. The lawmakers appointed to the group are Dels. Stephane Smith (D-Baltimore City) and Kevin Harris (D-Charles and Prince George’s), Sen. Majority Leader Nancy King (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Ron Watson (D-Prince George’s), a member of the EEE committee.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) named Smith a co-chair.

“This has been an issue for so many years,” King, who chairs the Education, Business and Administration Subcommittee of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said about duplication of programs. “We’ve got to find a way to come to an agreement that we were just not going to duplicate [programs] like that. We’re going to work with the Higher Education Commission to find a way to have that not happen.”

King said she hasn’t been informed on when the group will begin meeting.

A commission spokesperson said in an email the other workgroup members are:

  • Darryll J. Pines, president of the University Maryland College Park
  • Matthew Power, president of the Maryland Independent College and University Association
  • Tuajuanda Jordan, president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland
  • Kristin Mallory, vice president of academic affairs for Wor-Wic Community College
  • Pace McConkie, professor at Morgan State University and director of the school’s Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education.

A report with recommendations by the workgroup is due by Dec. 1.

New MHEC membership

The memo also urges the voluntary pause as the commission brings a nearly entire new board.

The governor appointed one commission member earlier this year, Rebecca Taber Staeheline, who was confirmed by the Senate.

Besides Motz, the governor announced the appointments this week of other former college presidents, educators and nonprofit leaders.

The governor will need to find a ninth person to serve on the 12-member commission after the July 6 resignation of former board member James Sellinger. The three other members on the board are Rai and Commissioners Barbara Kerr Howe and Ray Serrano.

The commission faces scrutiny after it cleared the way last month for Towson University to create a doctoral business analytics program. Morgan State University President David K. Wilson said that program would duplicate a doctoral business administration program at his historically Black college and university.

Wilson wrote in a June 30 letter that the commission’s approval goes against the spirit of a $577 million settlement signed into law two years ago. In that case, HBCU supporters sued the state, arguing that it directed more resources to Maryland’s predominantly white institutions and allowed duplication of academic programs already established at the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities — Morgan State, Bowie State, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The board’s decision, which Wilson noted in his letter was a 4-3 vote, is “final” based on commission regulations.

“As MHEC participates in the General Assembly’s workgroup over the next four months, institutions may want to reconsider MHEC’s review of an academic proposal when an objection is submitted until the workgroup prepares the required report with recommended changes,” according to the memo from Rai and Motz. “MHEC looks forward to working collaboratively with the workgroup and with all stakeholders to reform and improve the academic review process.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our website. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

If you have any questions, please email editor Danielle Gaines at [email protected].

To republish, copy the following text and paste it into your HTML editor.


Creative Commons License AttributionCreative Commons Attribution
Memo: Higher Education Commission leaders urge institutions to ‘pause’ new degree proposals if an objection is raised