Regents at Play: Carving up Campuses


January 06, 1993|By WILLIAM G. ROTHSTEIN

The actions of the Board of Regents eliminating programs a campuses of the University of Maryland show so little knowledge of higher education, so little attention to facts, and so blatant a disregard of the board's own policies that they pose a great danger to one of Maryland's most valuable resources.

Clearly some programs on all campuses should be cut, and some of the cuts were obvious and appropriate. However, the report contains no evidence to justify any of the cuts and many cuts were incomprehensible. To take an example of an unjustified cut at my campus, UMBC, the report recommends closing the Ancient Studies Department, based exclusively on the small number of majors.

But more than 85 percent of the students taught by this department are not majors, and the department teaches more students per faculty member than the campus average. It teaches essential courses for students in many different fields, as well as those taking Latin or Greek as their required foreign language.

Ancient studies is one example of the basic, popular and economically viable departments that have been eliminated on many campuses be- cause of the Board of Regents' exclusive use of one minor criterion, the number of majors, instead of more important criteria like the number of students taught.

The report also recommends closing the undergraduate social-work program at UMBC and building up the one at Coppin State. UMBC has 500 social-work majors and Coppin State has 100. In addition to their social-work courses, the 500 UMBC majors fill 2,000 to 3,000 seats every year in courses in psychology, sociology, English and other subjects.

It would cost millions of dollars to expand the social-work and other relevant departments and facilities at Coppin State, which has only 2,600 students. The recommendation makes no economic sense whatsoever. Its only effect will be to decimate undergraduate social-work education in Maryland.

A more fundamental issue is that many of these decisions are based on assumptions that are contrary to fact. A good example is the favoritism showed toward the College Park campus because it is supposed to the the ''flagship'' campus.

Most of the more than 70,000 Maryland students who attend the 10 campuses of the University of Maryland system (excluding University College) attend a campus close to their home. They consider College Park to be just another regional campus.

Taking the counties with the most college students in the 1991-92 academic year, fewer than 14 percent of the system's undergraduates from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Harford County and Carroll County attend the College Park campus. Between 22 and 33 percent of those from Frederick, Anne Arundel and Howard Counties attend College Park. Most students from these counties attend public universities in the Baltimore area.

Only Montgomery and Prince George's counties sent a majority of their University of Maryland system undergraduates to College Park, their closest campus. In addition, one-half of all out-of-state undergraduates in the University of Maryland system attended College Park.

College Park does have distinctive programs that merit protection, as do other campuses. But should Maryland consider College Park a ''flagship'' campus when 44 percent of its students in 1991-92 came from Montgomery and Prince George's counties and 32 percent from out of state?

Political factors are also at work. Legislators from Prince George's County support the College Park campus, and most black legislators represent the historically black colleges. Few legislators represent the other campuses.

Higher education in Maryland has always been influenced by politicians favoring certain campuses, regents chosen for their political connections, and subservient educational officials. The damage they have done in the past was moderated by the growth of the state's economy.

Now, in an era of declining budgets, the risks of permanent damage to Maryland public higher education are greater than ever before.

William G. Rothstein is professor of sociology at UMBC.

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