Brave New World for UM Regents

January 11, 1993

Finally, the regents of the University of Maryland have decided to take firm control of that public institution's destiny by chopping off 100 academic programs at 10 of its 11 campuses, centralizing administrative services on a regional basis and re-channeling the savings to high-priority academic pursuits. It's about time.

We thought the regents would have acted long ago to end the duplication and overlap at UM that have been so evident for the past few decades.

Even as a lingering recession forced the state to slash UM spending by 20 percent -- $123 million -- the regents refused to face up to the downsizing that clearly was in order. Programs and services were trimmed on UM campuses, but no major moves were made to reorient a university that badly needed a less diffuse sense of purpose.

No longer can the University of Maryland be an all-purpose institution for all students. Each campus will have to narrow its focus considerably and concentrate its limited resources on what it does best. The university is now receiving less state support than six years ago -- and the situation isn't likely to improve. Clearly, the regents had to begin a painful period of adjustment.

The university "must fundamentally change the way we do business" is how the regents put it in a document last month when it approved the program cuts. For once, the regents were prepared to move faster and go further than the campus presidents. They targeted programs that generally attracted few students or produced few graduates or were out of sync with the stated mission of that particular campus.

It is a good start, but one that ought to be refined with care. The regents moved so rapidly that they never addressed some crucial questions: Are any of these programs of such high quality they ought to be preserved? Is there some other imperative for retaining a number of programs? Is there a way to consolidate or subsidize through private sources some of these activities?

Critics of the cutbacks make a good case that they were never given time to offer alternatives or to make arguments against the regents' vote. They should be given an opportunity now, even if it means the regents have to extend the appeals period until early spring.

But there is no mistaking the trend. Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg has stated repeatedly that resources have to be redeployed to the university's top priorities. The regent's action last month is an important first step. It won't be the last, though. Down the road could be mergers, consolidations, joint ventures and privatization. It is a brave new world for public higher education in the 1990s.

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