College Park's faithful rally over fiscal woes Lawmakers, alumni join clamor over cuts

November 13, 1991|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Parent, alumni, faculty and student groups claiming tens of thousands of members around the state pledged yesterday to campaign for a bill to restore deep budget cuts to the University of Maryland at College Park and to other public university campuses.

For their logo, they chose the Terrapin mascot stripped of its shell. And for one of their first organized lobbying efforts, students hired a funeral hearse to lead a procession to Annapolis tomorrow.

One bill to restore cuts, an emergency measure to be pre-filed this week in the General Assembly, would permanently redirect to higher education $70 million annually in corporate income taxes now dedicated to transportation.

It was proposed yesterday by four lawmakers from the legislative district including College Park. They portrayed it as the key to keeping the state's 1988 promise to build a flagship campus of national distinction.

"We made a commitment to put College Park on a par with Charlottesville, Ann Arbor and Austin," said Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, referring to the locations of the universities of Virginia, Michigan and Texas, respectively. "Today we are being tested."

The announcement and pledges of support at a news conference here came a day after 2,000 students rallied and marched in a protest that led to 12 arrests. Those arrested were released without bond, and they returned to picket lines yester

day in the second day of an English department "teach-in" that interrupted classes for about 10,000 students.

At the news conference, Delegate James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George's, said he believed the bill had a "good shot if -- and that's a big 'if' -- those who care about the University of Maryland College Park" came out in force.

College Park's 180,000-member alumni group pledged yesterday to do just that.

Also yesterday, the Maryland Higher Education Commission endorsed the bill and a second measure, an increase in the gross receipts tax on gas and electric companies, which would give $38 million to Maryland's hard-hit community colleges. Higher Education Secretary Shaila R. Aery said the bills were being studied by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"We cannot continue like this," she said, adding that the cuts have come too fast for universities to devise long-term retrenchment strategies.

Top leaders in the General Assembly gave the bill to move money from the Transportation Trust Fund slim chances of passing.

"I don't think it's going to happen," said Delegate Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

"I think we're going to try to see what we can do to help both education and higher education get over the hump here. But whether or not we can take the money out of the Transportation Trust Fund and dedicate it to higher education, I question. There are other needs in the state too," he said.

The flagship of the 11-campus state university system, College Park has been hit with $40 million in cutbacks in the past 14 months after being promised far more than that in state funds to improve the campus.

With registration for spring classes under way, many students are reporting difficulty getting classes they need to graduate. Yesterday, University President William E. Kirwan said the campus was short 3,800 seats for next semester, up from the 2,500 that campus officials estimated last week.

The English department "teach-in" drew complaints from a few students who had papers due and needed help from the writing center, according to Eugene Hammond, chairman of the department. But for the most part, it enjoyed widespread support despite the inconvenience of rescheduled classes.

"I do mind not having classes," said Debbie Katz, a junior English major and one of those on the picket line. "But we respect what the faculty is doing, and we are showing that by keeping up with the work. We're putting in extra time to come here."

Phones rang off the hook in the officially closed department office, where two full professors were handling calls.

One of them, folklorist Barry Pearson, said most of the callers were students seeking information about classes. But one was a 1955 graduate who, irate over the budget cuts, offered to help find alternative sources of money for the university. For the past two days, the provost's office reported receiving mostly supportive calls from parents and others wondering how they could help.

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