UM protests unite campus in morale-boosting common cause @

November 17, 1991|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Senior Robin Armstrong wasn't going to join in the protests, this being her last year at the University of Maryland in College Park.

But when the 22-year-old philosophy major crossed the mall on her way to class and saw the crowds, something pulled at her heart.

"My brain told me to go to Symbolic Logic. My heart told me to join them," she said, explaining how she came to join a protest march over budget cuts on U.S. 1 Monday.

Not since the 1960s have students taken to the highway or professors to the picket lines as they did on this 35,000-student research campus last week.

Though many students acknowledge that the protests are not likely to bring them what they want -- the restoration of $40 million in lost state funds -- the reason for their protest has helped unite the campus and boost morale.

"I haven't seen the dean look so good in months," David Wyatt, an English professor, commented during a break from the picket line in front of the English department. He was referring to his boss, Robert Griffith, the dean of arts and humanities, who, like most administrators has been working long hours trying to minimize damage from cuts.

What makes some here proud is that, for the first time in a long time, "people are talking about fundamentally important things . . . about what we are about as an academic enterprise and as a publicly supported enterprise," Dr. Griffith said Friday.

"There is a sense that none of us want to see ourselves as victims and that we want to act as decisively and responsibly as

we can to protect the quality of the institution and to discharge our responsibilities to our students," he said.

On the street Monday, on the picket lines Tuesday and on the buses that honked their way to Annapolis Thursday, anger and frustration was let loose. But there was something else: pride in what the university has built and a growing chorus, fed by better students opting for Maryland over higher-priced private schools, that a high-quality public university is a "right, not a privilege," as several students bellowed into microphones.

"I transferred here from a private school that cost $22,000 a year," one woman said during a teach-in Tuesday. "I am very impressed with the quality of English I found here."

At the same time, she said, "you assume that when you transfer to a university like Maryland, you will be able to get into courses."

"I feel extremely thankful that the state of Maryland invested money to build this tremendous resource," said Lowell Woodstock, 60, a retired federal scientific researcher who persuaded his wife, Agnes, to push him in his wheelchair on a picket line.

"But it can be lost very quickly," he said, ticking off the courses and "fine" professors he has encountered as a student in the Golden I.D. program, which allows the elderly to attend classes free of charge.

For two days this week, 50 to 60 students showed up each hour at a lecture hall in the English department, even though regular classes were canceled. They spent much of the time questioning state and campus spending priorities, telling stories about their educational experiences and taking down names and numbers of people they can complain to.

Eric Kornblit, 18, a freshman international business major from .. Baltimore, would have preferred to be in class instead of marching around campus with a sign reading, "Hey Mom, send money."

His father was the first in his family to go to college, and Eric is the third child in the family to enroll at College Park. "I come from a very educated-oriented family," he said, "and now, just when this campus is taking off, is not the time to cut."

Such thoughts are also why people such as John Pistorino, a 30-year-old junior history major, volunteered to organize buses to Annapolis, using the military logistics skills he honed from his days working for a defense contractor.

Or why Edwin Bowers, a junior urban studies major, offered to drive one. And why junior Igor Dobrowolski brought his brother, Marcus, a high school student hoping to enroll at College Park next fall, to the rally in Annapolis.

"It's awesome," said junior Debbie Katz. In her three years on campus, she said, she hasn't seen anything unify students as much as the events of last week.

While she was praising tenured professors for coming out of the classroom to take a stand, the professors were praising the students.

From the sidelines on U.S. 1 Monday, Michael Olmert listened to students argue over whether it would help or hurt their cause to block the highway.

The last time he was out there, as a graduate student in 1967, bottles were breaking and tear gas filled the lungs.

"These are all good kids," he said, pointing out that two of the top students in his Shakespeare class were among the debaters. "They care about the issues."

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