Budget cuts at College Park create unrest

UM students, faculty say they feel left in the dark

  • Sana Javed, with bullhorn, a senior in the Muslim Student Association, takes part in a demonstration in November demanding that Cordell Black be reinstated as provost for equity and diversity. The school said Black's position was dropped for budgetary reasons.
Sana Javed, with bullhorn, a senior in the Muslim Student Association,… (Gerald Martineau // Special…)
January 01, 2010|By Childs Walker | childs.walker@baltsun.com

Persistent budget cuts have created turmoil at the University of Maryland, College Park this past fall, prompting a student demonstration over the removal of one administrator, complaints about a lack of clear explanations from the provost and a sense of dread among faculty who say they're asked to do more with less.

The state university system has cut more than $100 million from its 2010 budget in response to shortfalls in the state budget. As the system's largest campus, College Park has taken the biggest hits and will have to cut about $48 million by the end of the fiscal year in June. Cuts have led to furloughs, shrinking budgets for adjunct faculty, key positions left unfilled, discussions of merging departments and a few layoffs.

"It's natural for everyone to be nervous," said Provost Nariman Farvardin. "Some are nervous about losing their jobs. Some are nervous about not being able to graduate. But if we get no additional budget cuts, we will be able to manage the situation so that there are no discernible impacts on the core operations of the university."

Not all faculty and students agree.

The most dramatic dispute arose in November, when Farvardin announced he would remove Cordell Black as the associate provost for equity and diversity, for budget reasons. The position will become part-time in July. About 600 students and faculty members crowded the mall outside the administration building to protest the decision. Some spoke about Black's contributions to recruiting minority faculty members and nurturing scholarship on diversity issues. Others expressed broader concerns about the university's commitment to diversity.

"Dr. Black doesn't say the most popular things, but whenever an underrepresented group needs help, he takes up the cause," said Jazz Lewis, a junior government and politics major and member of the activist group Community Roots. "We honestly feel that the budget is being used as an excuse to push out a great man and limit a great position."

Others said the furor over Black was a flare-up of deeper tensions over a lack of transparency in university decision-making.

"That situation really put into perspective what the cuts were doing to our university," said Steve Glickman, president of the Student Government Association. "There were a decent number of students who had built up a personal connection to Professor Black. But it was the execution of that particular cut that wasn't handled properly."

Farvardin disagreed, noting that he could only say so much about the situation because it was a personnel matter. "I don't think there's a lack of openness, and I don't understand where that comes from," he said. "Almost all of the budget decisions are already out there, even though a lot of them are not final. The fact that everybody is speaking about these decisions is an indication of transparency."

Nonetheless, the Student Government Association passed a bill calling on the university to reinstate the diversity position.

The outcry prompted a message to the campus from President C.D. Dan Mote. "The diversity of the campus is a foundational issue; it is neither a project, nor an office nor one of many goals in a plan," he wrote. "Every program, operation and recruitment across the university must respect and reflect our commitment to a diverse culture."

Farvardin said recently that though the diversity job would temporarily become part time in July, the budgets of all the offices under it will remain intact. "This is a very important office for the campus," the provost said.

Black and his student supporters question how much the university will save by removing him. As a tenured professor, he will be able to remain on the payroll at a salary of more than $100,000 a year. Given his salary and the cost of a part-time replacement, the university will save no more than $10,000, critics say.

"We have a serious budget crisis, but I don't see how eliminating my position will produce significant savings," Black said.

"It's a modest cost savings," Farvardin said. "But when you add up a lot of modest savings across the whole campus, you end up with the $50 million we need to trim."

Black said concerns about diversity go beyond his ouster. Faculty members are also worried that the departments of African-American, women's, Asian and Latino studies could be merged under American studies. "That would remarginalize those departments after they fought so long to have a presence on campus," Black said. "I just see us going backward."

The university's response mollified some.

"To me, a lack of commitment to diversity is not an issue here," said Elise Miller-Hooks, an engineering professor and president of the faculty senate. "Almost everyone who has mentioned anything to me felt that it was time for Cordell to be moved out, that it was time for fresh ideas. The feelings from students were not reiterated among the faculty."

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