Budget cuts hitting muscle at state schools

August 27, 1991|By Patricia Meisol

When the budget cuts first hit, faculty in the mass communications department at Towson State University went up to the attic and found an old ditto machine to replace the copier, saving 7 cents a page.

Later, when electronic studio equipment broke and there was no money to fix it, hundreds of students in required courses at the state's second-largest university were forced to take incompletes.

Now, in an event playing itself out on state university campuses around Maryland, getting into classes themselves is going to be a problem because there's no money to hire faculty.

"One of my concerns is that students may not be able to graduate in four years," communications department chair Ronald Matlon said last week. "They'll have to come up with the resources to go another year."

A shortage of classes is not the only bad news for students. The chancellor of the 11-campus state university system is expected to ask the university's governing board tomorrow to levy a one-time 15 percent tuition surcharge in the spring.

It would bring in about half of a $24 million-plus chunk of state money the university system is being asked to give back in the fourth budget cut in two years. With a similar size cut possible again later this year and one three times bigger predicted for next year, the university system is headed toward a showdown if it wants to preserve quality.

"The presidents and I have very little choice," said Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg. If the revenue projections are taken at face value, he said, "Maryland cannot afford a system of the size and capability that this system now has."

Dr. Langenberg intends the tuition increases, along with staff furloughs and cuts of up to 25 percent in budgets for part-time workers not connected to instruction, to be only a temporary solution. Unless Maryland's grim revenue picture changes or new taxes are passed, the chancellor said, programs will have to be cut and campuses merged.

"We may find ourselves with a much contracted system, but we will have quality," the chancellor said.

Overall, the cuts so far total almost $105 million, putting universities back where they were in 1987 before the state pumped big money into higher enducation. Although improvements, such as smaller classes, have been made at individual campuses, there's little money to maintain them.

On the state's main research campus at College Park, everybody from top administrators to file clerks must put out their own garbage if they want it hauled away and faculty are entertaining offers from a host of colleges with fatter wallets.

"My worst fears about the cuts to the university's budget are, regrettably, now being realized," College Park President William E. Kirwan wrote Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, two weeks ago, atttaching a list of faculty losses so far.

"Sadly, this is just the beginning of what . . . will become, I fear, a deluge," he wrote.

The university system isn't ready to urge deep cuts in mediocre programs on some campuses that some say are necessary if excellence in other campuses is to be preserved.

But the central administration is not suggesting across-the-board cuts for the first time since the university system began in 1988 with the idea that each campus would carve out its own niche and the state would pump new resources into its flagship research university at College Park.

Instead, by focusing on types of items such as tuition increases and part-time employees, the size of the chancellor's proposed cuts are different at each campus. One list shows them ranging between 3.4 percent at the University of Maryland at Baltimore to 7.7 percent at the University of Baltimore. Hardest hit would be Towson, Bowie and the University of Baltimore.

The cuts are raising fears among faculty at Towson that the gains made there during the past decade, when the comprehensive undergraduate teaching campus moved into the national spotlight, are neither understood nor appreciated, and its 15,000 students will pay the price.

On the other hand, many on the College Park campus say they are suffering too heavily for the kind of commitment the state made to the campus three years ago. "If we are treated the same way as everybody else, it would reaffirm the fear" that all campuses are being leveled down, says Don C. Piper, political science professor at College Park.

The prolonged budget fiasco points up the disadvantages faced by College Park now in comparison to better endowed peer schools that have begun swooping down to raid the faculty, according to one of those leaving.

Samuel L. Myers Jr., an economist trained at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who chairs College Park's African-American studies program, said he accepted an offer he couldn't refuse from the University of Minnesota. But he said he also was discouraged that he could not recruit a top black economist from the University of North Carolina last year, because College Park could not offer the financial security of an endowed chair offered by Syracuse University or the College of William and Mary.

For the moment, the chancellor and university presidents are gambling that the budget picture has changed so drastically that the regents will support a temporary tuition increase tomorrow. If they agree, students will pay about 9 percent more this year than last. That compares with tuition increases of nearly 50 percent in some Northeast states.

Meanwhile, Dr. Matlon at Towson has already called on 2,000 alumni for help where the state has left off.

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