Officials at the University of Maryland's College Park campus this week removed nearly one-third of the school's 1,025 dormitory hall telephones after receiving a bill for more than $80,000 for accepted, but unpaid, collect calls.
Jan Davidson, a university residence official, estimated that between 500 and 1,000 of the 8,000 students who live in the university's 36 dormitories are involved in "widespread" incidents of telephone abuse.
The university has already paid the $80,000 bill, which covers the first semester from last September to the end of December. University officials said bills for some individual telephones totalled more than $1,000 each.
University officials said individual students, taking advantage of a one-week "grace period" that ended last Monday, have acknowledged responsibility for and agreed to pay more than $30,000 of the bill. The officials said that they are "vigorously pursuing" and will discipline students who have not admitted accepting collect calls.
The removal of the dormitory telephones is a major topic of conversation on the sprawling, 35,000-student campus. The campus newspaper and students interviewed yesterday supported the university's action, but complained that a "lack of planning" has inconvenienced innocent students.
"You have to recognize that the students who did this are basically stealing," sophomore Henry McGlade of Bethesda said. "So, to say the phones shouldn't be taken is almost to condone it, but it's an inconvenience. Innocent students are caught in the middle."
McGlade and freshman Hugh McCrackin of Rockville said one of the four hall telephones was removed from the men's section of the sixth floor at their dormitory. They said three of the four phones in the women's section of the floor were removed.
"The phones ring all night now because people are trying to get through," McCrackin said. The two students said one telephone on the dormitory's third floor had a bill of $1,500.
Dinah Martin, a sophomore from Oxon Hill who lives in an all-women's dormitory, said one telephone there had an $800 bill. Martin and her room-mate had a private telephone installed in their ninth-floor room last semester. "I'm glad we did," she said.
Yesterday the campus newspaper, The Diamondback, while criticizing university officials for imposing a "rather harsh" penalty, editorialized:
"A university that has problems receiving funds from the state to pay for a sufficient number of teachers should not have to worry about its students squandering the equivalent of two or three full-time professors' worth of money."
Although students are allowed to have private telephones in their rooms, most depend on the dormitory hall phones, students and officials said. Students can receive incoming calls on these phones, but must use pay telephones to make outgoing calls.
To avoid the cost of long-distance telephoning, students advise friends to call collect. They then accept the call, don't report it, and leave the university to foot the bill.
From April, 1975, to April, 1976, the university was charged about $70,000 for these unauthorized calls, according to The Diamondback.
At the beginning of the first semester last August, university officials warned students of possible disciplinary action if the abuses continued, residence life director Richard P. Stimpson said.
Stimpson said that by the end of the semester, as the number of unauthorized calls continued to increase, it became clear "the high-road approach didn't do much good."
Last month university officials notified student of the one-week amnesty period. They said the telephones would be removed and students who did not accept responsibility for their calls would be punished.
Until the last day of the amnesty, only $6,000 of the total bill had been accounted for.On Monday, however, the university received students' pledges to pay an additional $22,000.
Davidson said that the amount students owe for phone calls will appear on their end-of-term bills unless they pay within two weeks.
Several students interviewed yesterday said they would pay their bill within the two-week period to keep their parents from discovering their predicament.