3 years of budget cuts wear on Towson State morale Books, supplies too few for classes too big

February 15, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer Staff Writer Mark Bomster contributed to this article.

After three years of budget cuts, life at Towson State University now brims with real-world stress and troubles. There's no money for new English books for the library. Professors buy lab chemicals with their own money. And some students have to beg their way into already jam-packed classes.

And as for pay raises? There have been none -- for four years running.

"There's a tension among students, staff and faculty, about what's ahead, about what classes and what equipment will we have," said Ronald Matlon, chairman of Towson's mass communications department.

"This is a time that you should sit back and enjoy learning, enjoy going to school, enjoy being with your friends," said Chad Gobel, president of the student government. "That's not happening. Students are working longer hours and more days in the week to pay the bills."

Towson, of course, is not alone. Nearly every part of public higher education in Maryland has been hit hard by the state's budget problems. But morale at Towson seems particularly bad.

The problem starts from a widespread belief on campus that officials of the University of Maryland System, which includes Towson, are more interested in funding research programs at the expense of unglamorous but essential undergraduate teaching institutions such as Towson.

The Towson faculty even took the unusual step of voting a resolution of "grave concern" with the way the campus has been treated by the University of Maryland Board of Regents and UM Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg.

The latest blow came when the regents, as part of a statewide downsizing, announced the elimination of several Towson programs, including the chemistry and physics majors.

The proposed cuts have stunned many on campus who accuse the regents of chipping away at essential parts of Towson's identity.

Three years of cuts have forced a heavier reliance on part-time faculty; a shortage of supplies, including paper and chemicals; a cut in new equipment and library materials; larger classes; and ,, cuts in preventive maintenance, said Hoke L. Smith, Towson's president.

The budget cuts apparently have stopped for the time being, he said, allowing the university to begin repairing the damage. Just a week ago, the president said, he released $200,000 to the library for the purchase of materials.

Still, he admitted that the cuts have had a long-range effect.

"The patient has been stabilized, but the recovery's going to take a while," he said.

On Friday, about 100 students silently protested the cuts at a meeting of the regents on campus.

One student protesting the cuts is Sam Toba, a senior chemistry major.

Mr. Toba, 20, ran right into the school's budget problems last spring, when the chemistry department simply ran out of money for lab supplies. His professor, Joseph J. Topping, spent $20 of his own to buy chemicals Mr. Toba needed to finish a junior-year project.

"Basically, I was stuck," Mr. Toba said.

"It was no big deal," Dr. Topping said. "But the kinds of things going on at Towson ultimately hurt only one group of people and that's the students. I think faculty have tried not to let that happen."

Four years ago, Mr. Toba and the rest of the class of 1993 entered Towson with every reason to expect the best: The state government had just made higher education a priority and funding soared.

The glory days didn't last long. State funding for Towson quickly slumped from an all-time high of $50.1 million in 1989-1990 to $42.5 million this year. Enrollment, meanwhile, has held more or less steady at just over 15,000.

To take up the slack, tuition has climbed from $1,430 for in-state students three years ago to $1,924 today.

The budget cuts have hit just about everywhere.

Start in the English department, which didn't buy a single book or journal for the library last year. A few years ago, the budget included $15,000 a year for such purchases, Professor George Hahn said.

"It seems to me, a college is a bibliocentric universe," Dr. Hahn said. "You miss a year [of buying books] and you'll play catch-up forever."

Richard C. Graham, chairman of the chemistry department, chuckles when he brings up the annual travel budget for his professors: $1,000.

Dr. Graham recently came to Towson from the U.S. Military Academy, where there was plenty of money for conferences and seminars.

"Every university that I have been associated with allows a faculty member to attend at least one conference a year," he said. "Is it a frill? No."

Budget cuts elsewhere in the UM system have come back to haunt Towson, as well. The University of Maryland College Park announced it was closing its radio and television program last year. Many students in that program transferred to Towson State.

The number of Towson students majoring in mass communications has soared from 800 four years ago to 1,200. But the budget and the number of faculty members has stayed the same, Dr. Matlon said.

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