Outcry greets plan to cut UM programs

December 16, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

William T. Brown doesn't want to hear about "institutional mission."

All he's worried about is theater. And for the last 22 years, he has built a well-respected drama program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Now, the University of Maryland Board of Regents wants to eliminate Dr. Brown's theater major and scale back his course offerings. Theater is just not an essential part of UMBC's "mission" and doesn't produce enough graduates to justify its expense, the regents concluded.

UMBC's theater department is just one of about 100 programs at the UM system's 10 main campuses that the regents say should be shut down or downsized. The regents are expected to approve the plan at a meeting tonight.

"I think the thing that upsets us more than anything is that the regents have failed to look at the quality of our program," said Dr. Brown, pointing to the department's well-received Shakespeare on Wheels program and its four productions at Washington's Kennedy Center.

The proposal likely means that some of the eight members of the theater department faculty would lose their jobs. "We're all quite shaken by all this," Dr. Brown said.

The regents say the reductions are necessary in the wake of three years of budget cuts that have reduced the state's contribution to the system by roughly 20 percent. The regents have concluded that the 4-year-old system has allowed its institutions to take on too many nonessential programs.

"It is imperative that we fully exploit the value of being a system of higher education to achieve still greater efficiency and accountability," the regents wrote in explaining the plan.

In all, the regents have identified $25 million in expected savings, through academic cutbacks and various administrative changes, out of a total system budget of roughly $1.5 billion. Money taken from discontinued programs is to be funneled into higher-priority programs at each campus.

"We will put the money saved into other academic programs, the library, university salaries," said H. Mebane Turner, president of the University of Baltimore.

Across the state, though, teachers and students have been left angered and bewildered since the regents made their plans public last Friday.

At least two faculty senates have already cast votes denouncing the proposal. At Salisbury State University, more than 100 students and professors gathered Monday to protest the regents' plan to close or scale back seven programs. Under the proposal, majors in French, Spanish, chemistry and sociology would be eliminated.

Even the 46 graduate students in UMBC's ethnomusicology program got together to release a long statement opposing the regents' plan to end their program, the only one of its kind in Maryland.

Nobody in the University of Maryland headquarters will estimate how many layoffs might be necessary to enact the regents' plan.

"The unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of our costs are personnel-related," said John Lippincott, a spokesman for the system. "If we're going to redeploy resources, it is going to mean some reductions in staffing."

Raw numbers don't always tell the whole story about a program's importance, said Rudolph Storch, chairman of UMBC's ancient studies department, also slated to lose its major and some of its courses.

While the program typically graduates only six to eight majors a year, that is among the highest number of similar programs in the country, he said. And the department's courses, which are open to all students, "are always over-enrolled," Dr. Storch said. "My advanced courses in Greek and Roman history have always been filled since I came here."

The plan calls for closing down Salisbury State's medical technology program, the only training course on the Eastern Shore for would-be lab technicians. The program has a budget of only $106,000 and has turned out 10 to 15 medical technicians a year, many of whom went to school part time, according to Johanna Laird, head of the three-person division.

"The majority of our students are commuters. Many of them have babies," Ms. Laird said. "They won't go up to Baltimore for their education. They just can't."

The regents have outlined a process in which campuses can appeal the loss of programs. But many faculty members are skeptical of an appeal's success.

"You can only appeal if someone listens," said Dr. Storch at UMBC. "If someone's mind is somewhere else, what's the point?"

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