UM cost-saving ideas shake up the system again Chancellor encourages campus presidents to brainstorm

November 02, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

With no end in sight for the state's budget problems, the University of Maryland System is considering sweeping cost-saving ideas, ranging from the merging of Baltimore's two law schools to the privatization of graduate programs.

Even broader changes, such as turning Coppin State College into a two-year school, are being discussed.

"Anything is possible," said UM Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg, who said the changes could be "historic."

On a timetable that is frenetic by the usual standards of higher education, the Board of Regents will enact some changes before the end of the year, Dr. Langenberg said.

A shake-up would come only four years after the state reorganized its governance system for higher education and began a financial push to improve its public colleges.

"It is a reasonable supposition that for the foreseeable future, this state will be unable to afford the kind of university system that they confidently expected four years ago," Dr. Langenberg said. "In short, we've got to cut the suit to fit the cloth we have."

In the last three years, the state has cut funding for the 11-campus UM system by $123 million. The system reacted with tuition increases, layoffs, furloughs and other budget cuts, but there have been few reorganizations or major cutbacks in academic offerings.

Dr. Langenberg asked the campus presidents in September to suggest ideas for saving money.

In response, the presidents of the two leading UM campuses, University of Maryland at Baltimore President Errol L. Reese and University of Maryland College Park President William E. Kirwan, proposed a broad series of cost-saving consolidations within the system, including merging Baltimore's two law schools and consolidating all UM nursing programs.

The two presidents also proposed dividing the high-profile research programs of the Maryland Biotechnology Institute among College Park and UMAB. Such a move would help insulate the prestigious but expensive research programs from budget cuts, they said.

They also suggested consolidating the system's social work programs.

Many of the proposals are controversial and could lead to intense infighting within the 11-campus system.

Towson State University, for example, would lose control of its nursing program and Coppin State College would lose control of its social work program through mergers with UMAB.

One president criticized the proposals as "empire building," while one key legislator called them a good-faith effort to reform the system in the midst of a budgetary crisis.

"Any time that the presidents want to brainstorm, to come up with even far-fetched ideas, they should be encouraged to do so," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairman of a budget subcommittee that oversees higher education funding. "That's the kind of ferment you need to come up with that one great idea."

Presidents Kirwan and Reese also suggested a new strategy for merging UMAB and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, an idea rejected by the General Assembly earlier this year.

"The merger must lead to a significant reduction in administrative overhead," the two presidents wrote in a letter to Dr. Langenberg. "In our view, it was a mistake to claim last year that this would not be the case. . ."

Implementing any major changes will be difficult, judging by the response to the proposal to merge the the University of Baltimore law school with UMAB's.

"That's Mr. Reese down there trying to build an empire, I suspect," said UB President H. Mebane Turner.

He said studies have failed to show that merging the law schools would result in any administrative savings. Instead, he said, the state could "privatize" one of its law schools by reducing state funding and allowing tuitions to climb.

Even Donald G. Gifford, dean of the UM law school, who works for Dr. Reese, is opposed to any merger.

There is great demand for the two law schools, and they don't cost the state much money, Mr. Gifford said. And, he said, "there would be exorbitant intangible costs which would harm the schools' students and graduates."

In an effort to curb the rivalries that have always plagued the UM system, Dr. Langenberg recently called a meeting where each president was given a computer terminal to use.

The presidents were allowed to type anonymous responses to a series of questions about the system's priorities.

Using the computers reduced the "turf protecting and role-playing" but produced only a handful of ideas on which they could more or less agree, Dr. Langenberg said.

Dr. Turner at the University of Baltimore said such broad-scale brainstorming was unrealistic and possibly divisive.

"At a time when we need as much unity among our campuses as possible," Dr. Turner wrote, "rehashing again old ideas that have never been shown as workable will prove to be a disruptive process once again."

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