Tuition increase at UM slated for building needs But state leaders dispute university's budget reasoning

September 26, 1991|By Patricia Meisol

The money to be raised from a 16 percent tuition increase for state university students next fall would go largely to buildings and maintenance at a time when faculty shortages and crowding in some classrooms are hampering students' attempts to graduate.

University of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg has suggested that regents raise tuition rather than delay the repair or opening of new buildings, postpone faculty salary increases, or make additional cuts.

He said the items that would be funded with the proposed tuition increase and the savings incurred from laying off 473 employees cannot be postponed for future years. For example, the university buildings are in drastic need of renovation, he said.

"In our judgment this is the best of many ways to go, all of them unpleasant," Dr. Langenberg said yesterday. "We are in a state of crisis."

The items were included on a priority list that was approved by state budget officials. Money for the items also was included in a target budget figure before a drop in state tax revenues led budget officials to impose a cut for the 11-campus university system. The university budget for 1992-1993 will have $8 million less than the present budget.

The proposed tuition increase will be considered by the university's governing board tomorrow.

State officials said yesterday that the university doesn't have to stick with funding its priority list simply because state budget officials added it to the general pot this year.

"If the university wants to come back and say, 'Governor, we need to postpone facilities and spend the money on X,' they can do that," said Frederick W. Puddester, deputy state budget secretary. "That's their job."

To say that his department is requiring the university to spend its money a certain way or to raise tuition to pay for it "is not true," Mr. Puddester said.

When they released their budget proposal Monday, university officials insisted they have been directed by Mr. Puddester's department to pay for such things as building maintenance. Direct interference by the state would be highly unusual. The state university system has autonomy over its budget by law.

But Dr. Langenberg said the idea that he could waver from the approved priorities is "disingenuous to say the least. That is not the message we received," he said.

The cash flow problem facing the university system is influenced by many factors, including increased enrollments and growth throughout the 1980s that brought long-term commitments. They include a decision several years ago to speed up construction by issuing bonds for academic buildings low on the state's list of construction projects and pledging future student tuition as collateral if the state couldn't pay.

That decision is directly responsible for driving up tuition. Next year, $5.8 million in student tuition revenues will go to pay debt service on the bonds.

Meanwhile, students on at least two campuses -- Towson State and College Park -- have had more trouble getting into classes they need to graduate. Budget cuts over the past 14 months have kept university officials from filling faculty vacancies, which has increased class size and reduced the number of courses.

Yesterday, state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, vice chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, took issue with the university's budget priorities. While building maintenance may be justified, she said, the university should cut administrative positions before imposing an additional burden on students.

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