Jack Hogan//September 13, 2023
//September 13, 2023
The Maryland Higher Education Commission Wednesday reviewed a contested Stevenson University program and met in closed session to “re-do” a previous vote denying approval for the program.
Commission Chair Catherine “Cassie” Motz said the revote was prompted by recent guidance from the Office of the Attorney General, which stated that a formal action requires a vote of a majority of the commission rather than just a majority of those present.
The commission has 11 members and one vacancy, as state law allows for 12. At least six votes are required for the commission to take a formal action, according to the attorney general’s guidance.
The commission didn’t reach the threshold when it denied approval for Stevenson’s program in April, so that vote was of no legal effect, Motz said.
The Office of the Attorney General issued the guidance after the commission voted with seven members present to approve a contested Towson University program. Towson has since withdrawn its proposal.
The commission is expected to issue a decision letter for Stevenson’s proposal within 10 business days.
Motz — who, like most other commissioners, wasn’t appointed until July — said that Wednesday’s vote represented a “do-over” from the April vote, in which the commission ruled that the program would be “unreasonably duplicative” of doctor of physical therapy programs at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
The commission’s vote overturned a previous ruling from Emily Dow, assistant secretary for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, who recommended Stevenson’s program for implementation. Dow said that, while the program would be duplicative, it wouldn’t be “unreasonably duplicative” or cause demonstrable harm to other schools.
Wednesday was the commission’s second academic review hearing in as many weeks for an objected program, and its third in recent months.
Last week, the commission reviewed a contested program proposal from Johns Hopkins University. It reviewed Towson’s proposal earlier this summer.
Towson ended up withdrawing its proposal for its proposed Ph.D. program in business analytics, citing the commission’s memo calling for a voluntary pause. Morgan State University, also a HBCU, had contested the program.
Top officials for the commission, which doesn’t have the authority to postpone the academic review process without the consent of the proposing university, issued a memo in July asking for a voluntary pause on contested academic programs until December, when a legislative work group is expected to recommend changes to the academic review process.
“While we strongly encourage this voluntary pause when an objection is received, it is by no means required; however it may lead to greater opportunities for Maryland’s students with an improved process over the long term,” the memo states.
Motz said Wednesday that “this voluntary pause is solely within the discretion of the university proposing the new program.”
Stevenson, a liberal arts college in Baltimore County, is seeking to offer a doctor of physical therapy degree program. The school is seeking to enroll a class of 25 students beginning in 2028.
Stevenson University President Elliot Hirshman said that his school moved forward with its proposal because it came before the commission’s call for a voluntary pause.
“Our proposal was submitted in December 2022. Our commission hearing was supposed to be in April. The pause wasn’t requested until July,” Hirshman said. “Given this timeline and all the activity over the last several weeks, we believe it is appropriate to proceed.”
Stevenson first sought to establish its doctor of physical therapy program in 2021, but UMES — one of the state’s historically Black colleges and universities — and UMB objected and the commission denied approval for the program.
The commission at the time “strongly encouraged” Stevenson to resubmit its proposal if market conditions for physical therapy doctorate degrees changed, Motz said.
UMES and UMB objected to Stevenson’s new proposal, claiming the program would be “unreasonably duplicative” of their programs and would cause demonstrable harm to the institutions and their students.
Following a public hearing on Wednesday, the commission met in closed session to deliberate and vote whether to greenlight Stevenson’s program.
The commission is also expected to issue in the coming days a letter stating whether it approved Johns Hopkins’s proposal for a doctor of physical therapy program. UMES and UMB both challenged that proposal, too.
Leading up to the Johns Hopkins review, UMES and the state’s Legislative Black Caucus called for a postponement and cited the commission’s memo in doing so.
Motz, though, said she received the postponement requests too close to the scheduled meeting.l