Despite $84 million in state budget cuts at the 11 University of Maryland campuses, the UM System wants to spend an undisclosed sum to hire a public relations firm to boost its image.
UM system administrators in Adelphi recently sent out a 55-page request for proposals to public relations and communications consultants for plans outlining ways to create a "highly targeted" plan to highlight UM through 1998.
The proposals were to be turned in by Friday, but details have not been made available by system spokesman John Lippincott.
The 10-month project would include "research, analysis and development of communications strategies to enable the UM System to successfully articulate its nature and its benefits to specific constituencies," the request states. The firm that is hired would conduct surveys that include interviews and one-on-one discussions with state legislators, corporate leaders and UM donors, faculty, staff and students.
"With a new structure, new leadership and a new sense of purpose, the university system is poised to develop new levels of external awareness, understanding, appreciation and support," the request says.
UM system spokeswoman Anne Moultrie said the project was proposed by Chancellor Donald Langenberg, who wants the public relations campaign to reflect his "vision" of the system as "a family of distinctive and complementary institutions, a model for American higher education and a source of pride for Marylanders," according to the request.
Moultrie declined to say how much the project is expected to cost, but said it will be funded from the system administration's $10.2 million operating budget.
Moultrie said the funding must be approved by the state Board of Public Works, which considers state contracts that are $100,000 or more.
Plans by UM College Park to spend up to $75,000 on a similar study were terminated last year in response to state budget cuts, said Kathryn Costello, campus vice president for institutional advancement.
And higher education budget cuts persist this year, too.
The system recently ordered drastic cuts in the budgets of its institutions in response to a projected state deficit of up to $450 million.
Last month, Langenberg ordered cuts totaling $24 million, which resulted in a one-time 15 percent tuition surcharge to be levied on all students in January. Other measures include furloughs of UM employees, a halt to equipment purchases, layoffs of some support staff and part-time faculty, and plans to increase tuition by at least 4 percent next fall.
Langenberg also told the Board of Regents he wants to reduce the size of the system.
The public relations request mentions the budget crisis by noting that the UM system "seeks to develop a highly targeted, cost-effective and results-oriented communications strategy to share with key constituencies the nature and benefits of the university system."