Students voice concern over plan to cut programs

April 09, 1991|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Dana Knoll singled out the University of Maryland at College Park to study fashion and textile marketing three years ago after researching schools around the country. So when she heard last week that her college is one of two on the state's main research campus that could be closed because of budget cuts, she reacted with dismay.

What she wants to know, she said yesterday in a room dominated by an oil portrait of the College of Human Ecology's longtime former dean, Marie Mount, is how much her degree will be worth when she gets out.

Freshmen are already exploring new majors following last week's announcement that two colleges and eight academic departments might be closed, a move that would free millions of dollars to buttress stronger programs or begin new ones.

And others, like Ms. Knoll, a junior, say they are confused about what will happen to their academic careers.

University officials say they will continue to offer required courses in degree programs that are cut to allow enrolled students to finish their degrees in a reasonable time -- roughly four years.

Over the summer, faculty are expected to prepare plans to phase out or merge the targeted programs, which range from radio, television and film to recreation management. A final decision rests with the university's Board of Regents.

All of the programs slated for the chopping block educate students for professional careers rather than research or preparation for graduate school. Some do not have graduate research components.

Others, such as a master's degree in agriculture and extension education that now attracts 50 graduate students, are one of a kind in the state. Students train to work in the University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Service, which helps farmers, businesses and consumers.

Merl Miller, who heads the department, said the campus' desire to be among the top public institutions may mean research will be restricted to science rather than educational and delivery systems such as the extension service.

Student leaders said yesterday they generally approve of the idea of cutting career-oriented or smaller programs rather than basic academic areas. But Scott Palmer, vice president of the Student Government Association, also said a flagship state campus such as College Park "has a responsibility to be diverse."

If the budget were in better shape, he said he would favor making weak programs stronger rather than cutting them. "In the short term, a lot of students will be hurt," he said. "In the long term, many more could benefit."

Students' immediate concern, he said, is about the quality of the offerings available in programs that may be phased out.

"We want students to finish their degrees with some sort of meaning," he said. "How valuable will your degree be if you are the last person in a phased-out program?" he said. "We want to make sure the students get tenured faculty, and they offer substantive courses."

Some students in the College of Human Ecology said they already have a tough time getting the courses they need.

Janice Fabina, a senior studying experimental foods, said there are so few students in her major that she can't graduate until 1992, when the remaining required courses will next be offered. In the interim, she is working part time in the college's laboratories and for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Students outside the departments slated for oblivion complained yesterday that a new $10 million round of budget cuts announced last week will only make already overcrowded classrooms worse. At the same time, the campus seems to be spending money on buildings.

As fate would have it, the cuts come at a time when the College Park campus, long criticized for its plain looks, is emerging from several winters of renovation with landscaped lawns, revamped patios and a new reflecting pool on the main mall.

And although the reflecting pool was paid for with private funds, including a fund-raising drive by the student leadership and honor fraternity Omicron Delta Kappa, it has become a symbol of luxuries amid budget cuts as well as a magnet for sunbathers.

"The mall looks beautiful," said Elise Cary, 24, a landscape design major. "But I'd rather have new drawing tables."

Ms. Cary said she and most of her classmates enrolled in the horticulture department's landscape program last year in the belief that they would be one of the first candidates for a new master's degree offered by the School of Architecture. The new degree program, the only one available in the Washington area, has been put on ice.

"Most all of us wish we could go away," said Ms. Cary, adding that neither she nor most classmates have the money to transfer to similar programs out-of-state. "This is a business like any other. You pay money, and you expect to get something back."

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