Kirwan unveils cuts, restructuring at College Park

April 05, 1991|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- The University of Maryland at College Park, determined to have its cake and eat it, too, announced major budget cuts yesterday but dovetailed them with a restructuring of academic programs officials say will keep the campus on the path to national eminence.

Faced with a 10 percent reduction in state funds, university President William E. Kirwan announced $10 million in academic budget cuts and proposed shutting down two of the campus' 16 colleges and eight of its academic departments.

The closings, if approved by the University of Maryland Board of Regents, would free as much as $7 million in coming years that would be transferred to areas singled out in 1988 by the state's main researchcampus for excellence.

Dr. Kirwan acknowledged that the far-reaching restructuring would cause pain, but he also said it would position the university to take advantage of new challenges while preserving the core liberal arts.

The cuts announced yesterday, among the largest ever to hit the campus, come at a time when College Park has charted a course to become one of the nation's best public universities.

The student newspaper, the Diamondback, reacted with a headline that screeched "THE AX FALLS" on a warm spring day when classes met on lawns instead of lecture halls. But for university budget planners, April is proving to be the cruelest month.

In describing the impending cuts, Dr. Kirwan said that once the impactof the state's economic downturn became clear, the campus was forced to choose between letting all programs erode or putting its money behind top programs and priorities. "We have chosen the latter course," he said.

According to a report by chief academic officer J. Robert Dorfman, the restructuring is an attempt to avoid a "uniform decline toward mediocrity" while still allowing the campus freedom to take advantage of new disciplines and creative academic endeavors that may arise in the next few years.

All told, College Park faces an estimated $25 million shortfall for the fiscal year beginning in July. Some of it will be paid for with tuition and fees and by deferring maintenance. In addition, administration will be cut by more than $5 million.

Among the programs slated for extinction are the successor college to what was once home economics, a speech and hearing clinic that reported 6,000 patient visits last year, and the shutdown of the departments of nuclear engineering and radio, television and film.

In proposing the shutdowns, a campus academic committee singled out programs that have been less popular with students in recent years, peripheral to the campus or, in some cases, of declining quality. At least two, speech and hearing, and human ecology -- the former home economics unit that now offers study xTC in textiles, nutrition and family issues -- had previously been suggested for elimination.

More radical suggestions from deans, such as reducing th number of graduate students and eliminating geology, meteorology and a junior year writing program, one of the few such required courses in the country, were rejected. And some of the best programs, including art history, history, economics, engineering and mathematics, were singled out for growth.

"This is not a balloon shrinking," said Dr. Dorfman, explaining that programs would not be restored if and when the state's economic position improves and the campus receives the promised enhancement funds.

No tenured faculty would be laid off, and students in majors slated to be dropped would be permitted to complete their degrees, officials said.

This year and next, College Park will not get about $50 million in new state money it had hoped for as a result of a 1988 law designating College Park as the state system's flagship campus. The campus has taken the brunt of cuts among the state's 11 universities.

College Park already has lost more than 100 faculty and staff members through attrition. The resulting overcrowding in classes has been tempered by a planned reduction in the undergraduate population -- 20 percent over five years -- but students said yesterday that they still have trouble getting into classes.

"A lot of kids are frustrated. They are forced to take courses they don't really want," said Cheryl Atkins, a sociology major who said one of the courses she needs to graduate has been eliminated because of budget cuts. Instead, students are being asked to enroll in a similar graduate course, she said.

The dean of the College of Human Ecology, Laura Sims, said yesterday that she hoped the main work of the college -- the study of families and the human condition -- would be preserved elsewhere on campus.

"Obviously, I am clearly disappointed and very concerned," she said, adding that the college is looking at issues such as families in homeless shelters that few others are concerned with. The college has 1,000 undergraduates and 60 faculty.

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