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  • Md. legislative report

  •   Senator to Push for U-Md.'s Independence if Funding Falls Short

    By Eugene L. Meyer
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, February 22, 1999; Page B02

    The president of the Maryland Senate has drafted a bill to sever the University of Maryland at College Park from the state higher education system if the legislature fails to give the school enough money.

    "It's either going to be the flagship or be held down in the system," said Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's). "If the funding initiatives are not passed, I'm going to drop a bill in the hopper taking it out of system. It's already drafted."

    Miller, a College Park alumnus and an outspoken advocate of independence for the school, has been frustrated by the General Assembly's failure to appropriate enough money for the university to achieve parity with top-flight state universities elsewhere. But he said he'll await the outcome of current legislative battles before taking further action.

    Miller's statements come amid a flurry of funding proposals that would beef up the College Park budget, but not nearly enough to achieve parity with the schools whose ranks it would like to join, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan.

    Last week, College Park officials said they would need nearly $100 million more a year by 2003 to be on par with such schools. That would mean increasing by one-third the $300 million budgeted for the school this year by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who is committed to adding only $7 million a year for four years to the university's coffers.

    Glendening, who taught at the school for years, has said he also will seek an additional $9 million for College Park this year in a $27 million supplemental budget request.

    Yet even those efforts are far from assured. Legislators have indicated they may trim Glendening's overall budget requests and find other ways to spend his supplemental budget.

    All of this at a time when the state has a healthy surplus, leading the school's supporters to wonder whether College Park will ever get what it says it needs.

    "If you're not going to do it now, you're not going to do it," said Timothy F. Maloney, a University of Maryland graduate, member of the College Park Board of Visitors and a former state legislator.

    Maloney's concerns echo those of Miller, who has said his alma mater needs to be independent from the 13-school state university system to reach its full potential. To that end, Miller cosponsored a resolution last year creating a task force to review the structure of public higher education in the state. The panel in January recommended more autonomy but not complete independence for College Park.

    Miller supports a bill proposed by Glendening that, while keeping College park within the system, would allow its president direct access to the governor for funding requests. Currently, all requests must be funneled through the state Board of Regents, which oversees the operations and funding of the 13 institutions. Two other public colleges, Morgan State and St. Mary's College, operate outside the system.

    The University of Maryland System, which has its own budget, staff and offices less than a mile from the College Park campus, was created in 1988 by legislation that also designated College Park as the state's flagship school. But promised flagship funding fell victim to hard times in the early 1990s, while other states continued to increase funding for competing public universities.

    College Park spending is currently $9,793 per full-time student, compared with $11,834 for other top state universities. By 2003, spending by those schools is expected to reach $14,194 a student. "The gap is growing," College Park spokesman George Cathcart said.

    The problem has deep roots in a state whose leaders historically have bypassed their own state schools and attended top private institutions such as Princeton University in New Jersey, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia or Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

    "Our college was not founded by Thomas Jefferson," said Miller, referring to the third president's role in establishing the University of Virginia. Beyond that, Miller blames Baltimore's movers and shakers for the lower status of College Park.

    "One of things that held College Park and public higher education back over the past century and more is the dominance of Johns Hopkins University," Miller said. "Baltimore supported this premiere private industry."

    College Park, he asserted, was created "as an afterthought" in 1856, on land furnished by plantation owner Charles Benedict Calvert and was largely ignored by the state's establishment after it feted Confederate troops during the Civil War. "Until a few years ago, it had no endowment whatsoever."

    Now, to assert, as College Park officials do, that the school needs $396 million in 2003, Miller said, "is ludicrous, when you're not halfway there. You have to take it year by year." But if excellence remains elusive in four years, he predicted, "the system is going to be blown apart."

    The long simmering debate over funding for College Park burst into public view last year with the surprise departure of popular university President William E. Kirwan to head Ohio State University. Kirwan said the failure of Maryland to support its flagship campus fully was a key factor in his decision to leave.

    Kirwan was succeeded by Clayton Daniel "Dan" Mote Jr., a vice chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, where he gained a reputation as an aggressive fund-raiser.

    Mote, though less outspoken than his predecessor, has met privately with Glendening and with leaders of the General Assembly to plead his case, and he is publicly upbeat about the school's chances of achieving its financial and educational goals.

    "I'm hoping that the legislators can be convinced by the long-term value of having a great institution and what it'll do for future of this state," he said last week in an interview. "Higher education is expensive. But if you think higher education is expensive, you ought to try ignorance."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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