Family squabbles at UM

February 03, 1992

Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg tried to put it delicately, but the message he delivered to the Board of Regents this week left no doubt that certain members of the University of Maryland's family have not been acting in a familial way.

While outlining his "vision" of the university's vast system and how he hopes to guide it in the years ahead, Dr. Langenberg urged the regents to clamp down on overly rambunctious campus leaders seeking full autonomy from the University of Maryland empire. "Neither our system nor the state of Maryland can afford a 'commonwealth of independent academic states'," the chancellor said.

Some campus leaders have exploited the 1988 law giving each institution a high degree of self-governance to push for full independence. They care not how their grandiose plans might harm other campuses. They have rejected cost-saving opportunities to maximize both resources and delivery of services through cooperative ventures with other UM institutions. And campus presidents have done a lousy job of cutting the size of their bureaucracies, according to the chancellor: "There is little convincing evidence that our institutions have yet been able to achieve substantial permanent reductions in their administrative overheads."

Except for the on-going merger plans between the university's downtown and Catonsville campuses and a proposal to turn the University College adult-education division into an autonomous, private institution, Dr. Langenberg told the regents there is no reason to make further changes in the University of Maryland System. In effect, he wants the board to put an end to talk of full autonomy on certain campuses. He favors cooperation and collaboration within the 100,000-student system, not a return to the pre-1988 days of feudal education squabbles and power-grabs.

This is an awkward time for the university. Its state support has been cut by 20 percent. Large tuition increases are a distinct possibility. Faculty members and students worry about their future. And, as Dr. Langenberg noted, the university could remain "under extreme financial stress for a year, and perhaps several years." This is not the moment for officials to be pushing for breakaway independence for College Park or any other campus. This is the moment for teamwork and communication within the UM family. Balkanizing the University of Maryland is not the answer.

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