Some faculty and students of Maryland's public university system voiced concerns yesterday about a plan to increase the faculty workload and charge students extra for taking more classes than required for their degrees.
The measures are part of a laundry list of cost-reducing steps that system administrators predict will save $26.6 million in the fiscal year that begins in July.
System Chancellor William E. Kirwan, who formally presented the "Effectiveness and Efficiency" plan to the Board of Regents yesterday, said its provisions were desperately needed to accommodate an expected explosion in enrollment over the next decade.
In the past two years, the number of students at the University System of Maryland's 11 campuses has increased by the equivalent of more than 5,000 full-time students -- while state funding decreased by about $120 million and such mandatory costs as health insurance rose by $100 million, system officials said. Administrators estimate that enrollment will grow by 8,000 students over the next three years.
However, student representatives speaking at the regents meeting at Salisbury University yesterday said they worried that discouraging students from taking an "excessive" number of courses beyond their degree requirement would detract from the system's educational mission. The system's plan has yet to define the term excessive.
"Is higher education just an assembly line?" asked Aaron Kraus, president of the University of Maryland Student Government Association. "[This] will ultimately serve to . . . stunt the intellectual and professional development of some of the state's most ambitious scholars."
Nicolas Aragon, chairman of the system's Student Council, said that rather than financially penalizing students who take additional classes, administrators should provide students with better guidance and a greater selection of classes.
"Students [can] go nearly four years without seeing an academic adviser more than once," Aragon noted. In addition, he said, "All too often, students are forced to take classes they don't need because the classes they do need aren't offered in that particular semester."
System administrators say the cost-saving plan includes measures to enhance student advising. It also would add classes by increasing the average faculty course load by about 10 percent, from five courses a year to 5.5 at the system's research universities and from seven courses a year to 7.5 at its comprehensive colleges.
That prospect makes some faculty members nervous, especially at the system's flagship College Park campus, which only recently joined the ranks of the nation's top public universities. "Some in the faculty are really quite concerned . . . that they won't have enough time left for research or for service work," said Lee Richardson, a professor of marketing at the University of Baltimore and chairman of the Council of University System Faculty. "We may lose some good people."
But Richardson said he was encouraged by Kirwan's assurance that campus presidents and department heads would have the flexibility to apply the new policy judiciously -- allowing star faculty, or those who bring in a large share of federal research grants, to spend less time teaching.
"It's all in the implementation. And [Kirwan] is a very good person to work with," Richardson said. "When he finds that a plan needs to be fixed, he'll do it. . . . So I think he'll do the right thing."
James C. Rosapepe, a member of the Board of Regents, also predicted broad acceptance of the cost-saving plan. But he noted that the initiative saves only about 20 percent of the expected costs associated with increased enrollment.
The greater challenge will be to persuade Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to provide additional funding to make up the rest, system officials said. "With these new policies, we are really demonstrating that students and faculty and staff are all doing their share," Rosapepe said. "Now it's time for the governor and legislature to do their share."