ANNAPOLIS -- Students from the University of Maryland at College Park moved their campaign to halt budget cuts from the ivory tower to the real world yesterday in a small but spirited rally at the State House.
State police estimated between 400 and 500 people took part in the rally and "study-in" that began with a caravan of six honking buses and about 100 cars that left the campus about 1 p.m. Organizers had hoped for at least 1,000 people, and blamed the lower turnout on a warning from the university president, William E. Kirwan, that faculty members who cut classes would be penalized.
Students said they hoped their presence would nonetheless make a difference with the policy-makers. After chants of "Let's go Maryland" and "Keep the pressure on," they sat down in near silence on the State House lawn to write lawmakers in support of two emergency bills that would restore tens of millions of dollars to higher education.
"It's about time that money of the people went back to being money for the people," said freshman Michael Natkin, 17.
Student leaders took pains to keep the protest lawful. "The focus needs to be on our cause, not our actions," senior Scott Palmer instructed marchers.
And in contrast to Monday, when a march on campus ended with 12 arrests for disorderly conduct, yesterday's rally caused little more than backups on the interstate and on local roads leading into the state capital. Many motorists sounded their car horns in support of the students.
"I'm glad I am not going to school now," Joe Rosol said as he jogged past the rally. A graduate of the university's College of Engineering during what he called "the fat years" -- the 1980s -- he promised to call his delegate.
College Park has sustained $40 million in budget cuts in the past 16 months. With spring registration under way, many students are finding they cannot get into courses they need to graduate. ** The university is 3,800 seats short of the usual number it offers each spring, according to Dr. Kirwan.
Yesterday's crowd included an English professor who lectured to his honors students during the march down Rowe Boulevard, a 30-year-old freshman with her two children, and a landscaper sporting a UM shirt who said he was subbing for his daughter. "She wanted to come, but she had school," said Mike Palmer, 38, of his daughter, Lisa.
Many student brought their books. "I was supposed to graduate in May, but I can't get two required classes," said Katie Skeath, a history major, as she sat on the sidewalk and read. "It's very frustrating. They are raising tuition and making it hard to graduate at the same time."
Jennifer Rudick, a sophomore honors student, said she had gotten mad at her friends when they refused to skip class for the rally. "We have to show up or they won't have any classes to go to," she said. "People say '90s kids are apathetic, but that's not true."