2,000 rally to protest cuts at UM 12 arrested

highway blocked for hours

November 12, 1991|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- More than 2,000 students marched to protest budget cuts at the University of Maryland's College Park campus yesterday, burning copies of the spring class schedule and blocking the main highway around campus for more than two hours before police intervened.

By 3 p.m., after a fiery debate among the students, some of them borrowing police bullhorns to try to convince the crowd to move, most dispersed.

Campus police arrested 12 people on disorderly conduct charges -- 11 students and an instructor -- helping one student with a cane and another with a bandaged arm into a patrol wagon. They were released last night on their own recognizance after hearings in Prince George's County District Court in Hyattsville.

Shouting "Governor Schaefer, you get what you pay-fer" and "You say cutbacks, we say fight back" to the beat of drums fashioned from rulers and garbage cans, the students and some of their professors marched to the highway and were to return to the university's main mall for a second round of speeches when a group of students sat down and refused to move.

In the end, about 45 police officers, including a motorcycle unit and 15 Prince George's County police carrying wooden batons, kept 200 or so spectators on the university side walk while campus police and county sheriff's deputies loaded those who refused to leave into a police wagon.

The last time students protested over a shortage of classes was in 1945 when returning World War II veterans flooded the campus.

The protest march, organized by anthropology students, capped morning of speeches and "teach-ins" in the English department and elsewhere that brought out students and professors alike on a campus that has sustained a 20 percent cut in state money over the last two years. In the past two weeks, more and more students have found themselves on waiting lists for courses some need to graduate.

"They told me this university was going to be one of the top 10 in the country," said Lisa Jacobus, a sophomore, as she shouted "Wake up Maryland," along U.S. 1.

"They lied."

At a noon rally, the campus president, William E. Kirwan, his fistraised in solidarity, told an estimated 2,000 students that they could save their university if they stayed together and acted "in a disciplined, orderly way to let our voices be heard in Annapolis."

He said later that students, parents and alumni are beginning to understand the damage done to the campus by budget cuts -- $40 million in two years.

"I have some optimism that this situation could turn around," he said, noting that legislators are beginning to hear that message.

Also yesterday, Delegate James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George's, said he and other area lawmakers plan to propose a bill restoring the $38 million cuts to public universities around the state this year and bar more cuts in 1993. He said he wants to buttress education with tax money that now goes into the state's transportation trust fund.

Classes went on as usual in many departments on the 35,000-student campus yesterday, but the march coincided with decision by many English professors to cancel their classes in favor of a two-day "teach-in" designed to inform students about the impact of the budget cuts.

The campus' burst of activism began at 9 a.m. when 11 full professors from the English department, many of them nationally known academics, picketed the main administration building for an hour.

The English department, which serves 10,000 students each semester, more than any other department, has been among those hardest hit. A plan to cut 13 instructors next semester because of the budget would mean the cancellation of some classes and a shortfall of 1,500 spaces in others.

"I'm here because I am afraid for the future of the institution," said Theresa Coletti, a specialist in medieval literature and a 16-year faculty member.

"What's happening is a steady deterioration and wanton destruction of a very good department we have worked hard to build," said Lewis Lawton, a specialist in Southern literature who joined the faculty 28 years ago.

Mary Helen Washington, a specialist in African-American literature who was lured to the department two years ago from the University of Massachusetts, said the public has not been aroused on behalf of higher education until now because it has been dulled by the materialism of the 1980s. But she said the dreams of most Americans who expect a quality public higher education for their children are at stake.

After marching in front of the president's office, the full professors joined about 500 students and colleagues in a picket line in front of the English department.

For most of the morning, faculty members took turns at the microphone, leading protesters in chants like "the budget is shrinking, the flagship is sinking." In the noon rally and march to U.S. 1, the English faculty were joined by a much larger group of students, many from departments slated to be cut or severely reduced in a strategic plan the university is now considering.

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