Professor Glendening Dashes the Dream of a Great University

January 30, 1995|By TIM BAKER

The University of Maryland must have thought it had dodged a bullet last fall when Parris N. Glendening narrowly defeated Ellen R. Sauerbrey for governor.

Not only was the Democratic winner himself a college professor -- one of the university's own -- but during his campaign he proclaimed that higher education would be a priority in his administration. In stark contrast, his conservative Republican opponent declared that the university system's budget was one place she'd cut to help pay for her promised 24 percent reduction in the state's income tax.

So when the ballots were finally counted -- and recounted -- you could hear a collective sigh of relief from Towson State to College Park. Campus presidents, administrators, and faculty members thanked their lucky stars for every one of those blessed 5,993 votes by which the university system was delivered from Mrs. Sauerbrey's threatened meat ax.

Without those votes, they realized, the university system would have suffered the ravages now being inflicted on the once-proud university system in Virginia by Mrs. Sauerbrey's ideological twin, Republican Gov. George Allen. He's trying to slash $62 million from his state's higher-education budget in order to help finance his promised $2.1 billion tax cut.

Well, thank God. That wouldn't happen here. Not now. Not with Professor Glendening assuming office. Then on January 20, Governor Glendening announced his budget for fiscal year 1996.

The University of Maryland will take a big hit.

Nominally, the governor will increase the university system's state funding by 1.1 percent or $6.3 million over the current year. But even that small increase is an illusion.

First, the Governor's budget requires the university system to spend $16.6 million more than last year on cost-of-living allowances, added maintenance and utilities expenses for newly constructed buildings, and increased workers' compensation. Second, the system already has binding contractual obligations bTC to increase salary and fringe benefits for faculty and staff by $11.1 million and to pay another $2.6 million in expenses for new facilities.

That's $30.3 million in unavoidable increases in the system's expenses -- money that must be spent simply to keep the system where it is. So when the governor budgets $6.3 million in new funding, he actually leaves the university system with $24 million less than last year -- a net 3.5 percent reduction.

To fund some of that shortfall, the governor's budget orders the system to save $9.2 million by eliminating 355 existing positions and another $1.1 million by making other specific cuts. That still leaves $20 million in so-called ''unfunded mandates'' -- money which the Board of Regents must find by cutting elsewhere in the system.

Furthermore, the governor's new budget doesn't include any state appropriation for the $3.5 million in interest on the Academic Revenue Bonds which the Board of Regents planned to issue this year. Those bonds would finance both the start of construction on the health-sciences library for the university's graduate schools in Baltimore and the planning work on the proposed Maryland Center for Performing Arts at College Park. If these projects are to remain on track, the system will now have to further cannibalize itself to finance them.

There's no fat from which the university system can painlessly terminate 355 positions, cut another $20 million, and find $3.5 million for new bonds. Since the recession which began in 1990, the system has been forced to cut again and again.

Once upon a time, this state en- couraged the University of Maryland to aspire to greatness. For one brief shining moment back in 1988 and 1989, right after the famous reorganization of higher education, the state asked our university leaders to dream. How could we do things like develop UMBC into a regional powerhouse of economically-relevant scientific research and build the flagship at College Park into an academic rival of the University of North Carolina, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia?

Those hopes were --ed, at least for the 1990s, by the recession and Governor Schaefer's consecutive annual budget cuts. Even after the drastic reductions of 1990 and 1991, higher education's share of the state budget kept falling every year.

Governor Glendening's election, however, seemed to promise a steadier and more visionary dedication to the essential requirements of building a great university system. One of those requirements is consistency of purpose. No institution can build for the future if it cannot count on the dependable financial support it needs for strategic planning.

Maryland has never given that kind of support to its university system. As a result, enormous opportunity and potential remain unrealized in the system, especially at College Park and UMBC. With the kind of solid support they need, however, both of these campuses could leap ahead in the next 10 years.

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