THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND provides an illuminating case study of the effects of the federal budget cuts on the academic world and its work. Maryland is not only by far the largest of this area's universities, but the most heavily engaged in research. The precise meaning of some of the cuts is not yet clear. But, as a practical matter, what seems to be the impact so far?
Maryland's physics department is exceptionally strong and, within it, the space physics group is now building instruments for an orbiting satellite scheduled to be launched in the mid-1980s. But, because NASA's research funds have been severely reduced, that satellite may never fly. Funds for this kind of project employ, among others, graduate students. Dropping this project would mean not only less research now, but fewer people trained in physics in the future. At Maryland, physics and astronomy will be particularly hard hit; support for engineering and computer science seems less in jeopardy.
The university has been getting federal support for the publication of a series of volumes of letters and other documents describing the conditions of life of freed men in the South after Emancipation. Much of the editing has been done, but the budget cuts make it questionable that the collection actually will be published.
University officials expect that federally supported student aid may drop perhaps by a third. Out of the 36,000 students at the College Park campus, 19,000 currently get some form of aid. The decline in aid will come at a time when the cost of attending Maryland--this year about $4,450 for tuition, room and board--is rising about 10 percent a year.
The university's Baltimore campus, with its professional schools and hospital, confronts a different order of trouble. People at the medical school think its basic research grants will hold up fairly well. But the loss of the federal training grants will constrain the programs for future social workers, nurses and physicians.
For the Baltimore campus, by far the most ominous of the federal cuts are those in Medicaid, which pays the medical bills of the poor. Unemployment is rising in Baltimore, and many people who had hospital insurance as a fringe benefit of their jobs find themselves suddenly with no protection. Meanwhile the federal capitation grants, which subsidize each medical student, have been shrinking for several years. Along with the loss of the training grants, that implies higher tuition. Dr. Albert Farmer, the chancellor of the Baltimore campus, points out the unhappy pattern that emerges: the university's hospital is rendered less able to care for its poorest patients, while the medical school will have increasing difficulty keeping its doors open to any but the children of the most prosperous families.
Last year, the country decided that the federal budget was too fat and flabby. This year it has been doing serious cutting. Another round of large cuts is in prospect for the year ahead. As you make up your mind about this process of reduction, you might keep in mind the ways in which it is affecting a strong university that serves this region in more ways than you can count.