Cutting budgets is never pleasant, but the University of Maryland College Park deserves credit for the way in which it has gone about the job.
The University of Maryland System began the year with a $1.4 billion budget which called for $649 million in state support. But as state tax revenues dropped, this state support was cut by more than 8 percent for the current year and another 4 percent for next year.
The university system's board of regents spread the cuts evenly around the campuses. Most have responded by leaving unfilled whatever vacancies occur and by mandating reductions in areas such as travel and library hours.
At College Park, campus officials realized that if they were going to do some things really well, they couldn't continue everything they had been offering. Each of the 16 colleges on campus formed a faculty committee to make recommendations. Then, an overall campus committee, again composed largely of faculty, put together a plan: to stop teaching some areas of study and to approach other subjects in different (and smaller) ways, while continuing to build in areas of excellence.
Following the recommendations of a campus committee, College Park President William E. Kirwan this month called for eliminating two of the 16 colleges -- the College of Library and Information Services and the College of Human Ecology (formerly home economics) -- as well as eight academic departments. If approved by the university's board of regents, the reductions would save about $10 million.
Committees are continuing to study how to phase out the programs with the least disruption. Students already enrolled have been promised they will be offered the courses they need to complete their programs.
Killing programs is messy; it is inevitable that some students and faculty will be unhappy. (Indeed, as political budget-cutters have found in other areas, it is also difficult to close a school or library or fire station.) It is understandable that most campuses have tried to defer the unpleasant task as long as possible. But after a period of quick budget growth, Maryland's public campuses are facing several years of pinched state dollars.
Other campuses will have to follow the example of College Park, and the regents will have to make tough decisions about resource allocation in the system as a whole. To create or maintain excellence in some areas, other academic offerings may have to be eliminated or cut back sharply. Any other course of action is a formula for mediocrity.