COLLEGE PARK -- Just days before the University of Maryland at College Park was to begin the school year, eager to forge ahead with plans to make the campus one of the nation's best, a "do-it-now" governor looked at his budget and said, in effect, "Wait."
Gov. William Donald Schaefer's proposal to cut $39 million from the state university system for the budget year that began July 1 -- $14.5 million of it from College Park -- has turned eagerness into anxiety.
Last week, instead of turning her attention to recruiting next year's crop of professors, Sandra Greer, the chairman of the chemistry department, suddenly found herself worrying about the careers of two new faculty members to whom she pledged laboratories when she hired them.
"I am not distressed -- yet," she said, explaining that she hoped her bosses would persuade Governor Schaefer to make exceptions to the freeze on equipment purchases.
Dr. Greer is willing to do her share of cutting, she said. But if it comes to denying young faculty the tools they need to get careers off the ground, "I'll have to go to the mat."
If Dr. Greer is taking a wait-and-see approach, the mood elsewhere on the state's main campus last week was gloomy as faculty members caucused in hallways to discuss the least painful way to make the cuts.
The budget news came as the university was eager to move ahead with an ambitious $150 million improvement plan that already has fallen behind schedule in state funding. And it has --ed hopes that the campus can move quickly on the plan it says would make it one of the nation's top-ranked public research universities.
"The people who were involved in this [beginning] five years ago are really discouraged," said Maynard Mack Jr., associate professor of English, who is working with faculty to improve undergraduate teaching. "You don't get an opportunity like this but every 25 years."
But Dr. Mack said he and his colleagues "are not giving up. While we should be angry, that is not an excuse to sulk." Many changes do not require money, he said: "They require changes in attitude."
Robert Griffith, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, agreed.
"I think this is a very critical time for the campus, and I think how we respond to these events and, in a sense, how the state responds, is going to be very important," he said.
"I have been thinking and talking to my [department chairpersons] about nothing else the last few days," the dean said. "Making a great university is difficult in the best of times, and these are not the best of times. But we are committed."
Dr. Griffith and other faculty members interviewed last week said the state's budget shortfall came at the worst possible time -- just when the campus had been buoyed by unprecedented political support, money, academic improvement plans and new leadership, all at the same time. "What's been happening is really quite extraordinary. It's as though the university has been reinventing itself, and everybody is concerned about whether that will continue," he said.
"This is a campus with a very fragile emotional psychology," Dr. Griffith said, noting that College Park, like many public universities in the Northeast, was historically short of funds in comparison with institutions in the South and West.
"It is a shame that it had to happen at this moment," said Richard Price, chairman of the history department. "The campus as a whole is on the verge of doing great things."
But what it means, he said, "is that the choices are going to be harder, and that is not necessarily a bad thing."
In a meeting with deans, directors and department heads last week, University President William E. Kirwan dubbed it "the best of times and the worst of times."
"The irony is, there is so much support for it [the campus plan], both on the campus and off the campus," Dr. Kirwan said in an interview. "I think the question is, will there be any flexible money that can go to support the plan?"
Public higher education in Maryland is coming off its best years ever -- 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 -- in state funding. The 35 percent increase in state money over the two years was the largest such increase in the country during the period.
But many educators say they are worried that what today is being viewed as a one-time cut could continue next year.
"The concern is what is going to happen in October, November, December, as the governor puts together his plan [for 1992]. We are looking at 1991 as a one-time thing," said Donald L. Myers, vice president for general administration for the 11-campus state university system.
Richard Herman, the new dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Science, took the job with the understanding that the campus would get more enhancement money.