University of Maryland's officials, acknowledging that the school suffers because of how it is perceived, have embarked on a public relations campaign aimed at improving the multicampus university's image.
As a part of the campaign, the College Park campus hired a Baltimore advertising and public relations firm, Eisner and Associates, to study the school's image problem and develop a strategy for improvement. Implementing only part of the consultants' recommendations could cost nearly $570,000, according to a draft plan given to regents this week.
Quoting College Park campus Chancellor John B. Slaughter, the report said a public relations campaign could "encourage the state's best students to enroll at College Park and thus . . . stem the 'brain drain' that we've been experiencing."
For many years the university has been viewed as placing more emphasis on interscholastic athletics than on academic standards. Vice Chancellor A.H. Edwards conceded in his report to the Board of Regents: "We have an image and perception problem in many areas of the state. The progress made in perception was set back by the death of Len Bias and the aftermath."
When the Board of Regents' Special Committee on Public Relations and Development met last month for its first organizational meeting, Edwards submitted a number of recommendations, among them production of three television spots to be aired during the Olympics and placed on local stations by the university in the Baltimore-Washington area. The proposal also suggested the hiring of six free-lance writers to dispense information about the university.
University President John S. Toll said yesterday that the university had not decided whether its $800 million budget would accommodate a $500,000 publicity campaign for the College Park campus.
Declaring that "funds are tight," Toll nevertheless noted, "If you have a good program of public information, it will help you get the funds to increase the other programs of academic excellence."
The main image problem the university suffers, Toll said, is that "people are not fully conscious of what is here. It's not so much a negative impression as it's that they are not informed of what is here."
Toll said that every university wants to get its message out to the public, but the University of Maryland has a peculiar problem of geography.
"We are the major university of the national capital region," Toll said. "There is a lot of competing news. If you are the major university of Chapel Hill, N.C., you're the big thing in town. Here, we have to compete with the national government.
"This is a complex institution, and I don't think we get as much attention as other universities that dominate the local scene."
The university has taken steps in other directions lately toward changing its reputation. In February, regents agreed to a 20 percent, five-year reduction in student enrollment as a way to raise the quality of education and lower class sizes at the main College Park campus.
Early this year, a gubernatorial commission concluded that the university also should raise faculty salaries and emphasize graduate programs if it is to earn a standing as one of the country's top public universities.