It's "vision time" at the University of Maryland System. Last August, the board of regents asked Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg to devise a "vision" for the 130,000-student network that finds itself in the midst of profound changes. The chancellor unveiled the first part of his blueprint this week, a plan that deals frankly with the system's immediate problems but in only vague terms with the system's future direction.
"We confront many very difficult, perhaps intractable, problems," the chancellor told the regents. The university system's state budget has been cut by one-fifth, creating upheaval and alarm among students and faculty. Once the recession ends, Dr. Langenberg said higher education will be markedly different. The University of Maryland System must start to re-think the way it operates.
To get through the current revenue crunch, Dr. Langenberg wants the regents to consider substantial increases in tuition if the General Assembly is unwilling to renew its previous commitment to higher-education enhancements. His goal: "A clearly articulated and explicit policy concerning tuition," rather than a helter-skelter approach that responds only to immediate crisis.
Dr. Langenberg also stressed greater private and philanthropic fund-raising for each campus; recouping more money from research activities and public services, and giving more faculty members a chance to enter entrepreneurial ventures.
University College, the continuing-education branch on the College Park campus which already is self-sustaining, would be "privatized" under Dr. Langenberg's plan. It would remain affiliated with UMS but University College would have far greater flexibility as a private institution to deliver evening-school courses throughout the state.
Plans to merge the UM campuses in Catonsville and downtown Baltimore should proceed, the chancellor said, but no other mergers are needed. Instead, he intends to pursue "strategic alliances" among schools in the Baltimore region, between University College and the University of Baltimore and between the university's two major Eastern Shore campuses. It is a less controversial way to proceed that can produce short-term gains.
Dr. Langenberg has a difficult job. UM's disparate campuses still are often at odds. Too much bureaucratic red tape remains in place. Downsizing campus administrations won't be easy. Instituting the chancellor's commitment to "Total Quality Management" will take years. Even something as simple as rewarding outstanding faculty members through a "pay for performance" plan will encounter a variety of roadblocks.
But the chancellor seems to recognize the dramatic shift that has occurred in government and within public higher education. His vision seems on target. Turning these goals into reality will be his most demanding challenge.