Budget cuts make dust of plans for a better UM Students have larger classes and higher costs.

October 24, 1991|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

At the University of Maryland at Baltimore, President Errol L. Reese hoards paper clips, saying, "It's come down to this. I never throw them away."

Across town, University of Baltimore President H. Mebane Turner confesses a guilty feeling over a recent extravagance -- purchase of a telephone with a built-in speaker for conference calls.

A crusade by UM College Park President William Kirwan to protect higher education from budget cuts has become a scripted lament as other UM presidents complain that taxpayers don't understand its relevance to the state economy.

Nearly three years after Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly reorganized higher education and promised fat city, Maryland's world of academe faces the leanest of times.

Speeches about achieving national eminence and making College Park the "Stanford of the East" are all but forgotten. They have been replaced by retrenchment plans, layoffs and streamlining of academic bureaucracies.

Classes have become overcrowded, and students are finding it tough to get into courses required for graduation. At the same time, they're being asked to pay 15 percent more in tuition.

Faculty members are paying for supplies out of their pocket and giving multiple-choice exams instead of essays because they take less time to grade. Layoffs and furloughs of administrators and staff are hindering progress and driving down morale.

Rounds of budget cuts have some campus presidents wondering whether it's good idea to be part of the university system. Some have approached state lawmakers complaining of being "handcuffed" by what they see as inconsistent policies of the UM Board of Regents.

BTC Hoping for more freedom and better funding, they've started lobbying quietly to be let out of the 3-year-old UM System, said state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-City.

"Most of the presidents want out -- now," Hoffman said, declining to name the presidents, none of whom have come forward publicly. "They think that if they weren't in the system, they'd be better off. They tell me, 'I'm handcuffed. I'm getting directives from the regents that don't make sense.' "

With cuts totaling $70 million to UM's budgets since last fall -- and expectations that the budget ax will swing again by the end of the year -- the university presidents are wondering if it ever will be possible to implement the legislation that mandated sweeping reform in 1988.

Hoffman, an architect of the 1988 reorganization, admits that the plan is derailed. The unprecedented 15 percent increase in funding in 1989 that bolstered campus hopes has been whittled away, along with momentum and aspirations.

Hoffman wants the universities to hold the line. She called for better management of resources, and plans to meet with some UM regents to discuss the board's priorities and responsibilities.

"I'm not sure they understand," Hoffman said. "I still think the relationship between the regents and the schools is not what it ought to be. If the regents are going to . . . try to keep everybody happy, then nobody is going to be happy.

"Right now, we don't have the money to do it [reorganize higher education]. This is a crisis, but there is opportunity in every crisis. For instance, they can have more cooperative arrangements -- it's up to them whether they seize it."

The 1988 legislation called for "international recognition" for the flagship UM institution at College Park, enhancing historically black colleges and improving professional and graduate opportunities in the Baltimore area.

The latter is far from reality at UMAB, where Reese and his staff have tried to adjust to $20.7 million in budget cuts since last year.

A $1 million medical school enhancement proposed by the regents in their 1993 budget request is already being met with doubt because of the state fiscal crisis, Hoffman said. And the continuing cuts are demoralizing on campus.

"We have never been enhanced," Reese said. "We're looking forward to the time we can be enhanced. We've lost one-fifth of our state budget. It's like knocking one of the wheels off of your car -- it's not going to run."

Reese, inaugurated Oct. 11, said recession-related faculty departures are shaking the foundation at UMAB. Book and journal purchases at the institution's health and law libraries have been cut. Library hours soon may be limited and larger classes in the School of Social Work are a new reality.

Reese said an accreditation team from the American Physical Therapy Association flashed a "warning light" Oct. 10 during a visit to the Baltimore campus by centering "all questions on financial stability." And 20 percent of UMAB's teaching force, mostly part-time practicing professionals, have been let go.

"I know of no one here that's been spared," Reese said. "I think you would find the students to be disappointed in us."

Plans for reshaping College Park have also been stalemated by $39.4 million in cuts since last year.

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