Deficit moves state colleges to cut services


Since library hours were shortened three weeks ago because of budget cuts, Dolores Laitta, a senior at Towson State University, is out of her house by 8 a.m. That way, she's sure to beat the crowd to the library computer room.

The marketing major used to sleep until 10 a.m., but since the library began closing two hours earlier at 10 p.m., she has learned to work in the morning. But she can sleep late on Saturdays without feeling guilty: The library now doesn't open until noon on Saturday. The changes are all to save about $12,500 in what could turn out to be a tough budget year.

The earlier closing of the library computer room has led to some overcrowding during the day, students say. In the end says Wendy Super, 21, a senior business major: "It means less sleep, and people will probably have trouble meeting deadlines."

Ms. Super, who says she is most productive in the evening hours, also worries that the loss of night hours to work on spreadsheets in the library's computer lab could affect her grades. "I get less done in the dorm room," she said. "Not a lot of students can afford a computer."

The spending cuts -- which include a freeze on the purchase of new books -- are part of a pre-emptive strike taken by Towson State officials to cushion what they say could be more disastrous budget trimming later in the year.

Alone among 11 state university campuses, Towson President Hoke L. Smith has moved immediately to withstand twice as much budget cutting as that ordered by the governor.

If they last through the year, the cuts would save about $6 million, or double the 6 percent cuts Towson and other state universities so far have been ordered to make.

And while no other campuses have gone as far as Towson, several are preparing contingency plans to cut up to an additional 5 percent this year. For many campuses, state taxes are the single largest chunk of their budget; the rest comes from student tuition, government grants and private gifts.

Dr. Smith said his conservative approach is intended to prevent layoffs later in the year.

The idea is to "inflict more pain now," he said, explaining that if he waits until February or March and the state deficit grows wildly out of control, he would have no choice but to cut personnel. And if the crunch doesn't come, the money will still be there, he said. "Most books will still be available six months from now."

Meanwhile yesterday, Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said the university system needs to begin shaping a "serious cost-containment" plan to pay for improvements in education. The university system was promised millions more in state support yearly when the system reorganized in 1988. But Dr. Langenberg said the economic outlook in Maryland, while better than other states', means quality improvements will be paid for largely by reshuffling previous funding levels.

Most campuses contacted yesterday have not ordered cuts beyond the 6 percent asked by the governor. And several said the current round of cuts is likely to show up in the classroom next semester.

Students at the University of Baltimore, for instance, could find themselves in larger classes as the result of a systemwide hiring freeze and the campus' dependence on more part-time faculty who are hired per semester, said Provost Catherine Gira.

At the University of Maryland in College Park, uncertainty over whether money will be available to hire new faculty next year has led some department heads to cancel costly searches. Frostburg State University has slapped a freeze on purchases costing $200 or more and is reactivating a fund-raising campaign for academic equipment that raised $1 million in the past three years.

Other campuses, including Salisbury State University, the University of Maryland at Baltimore and Bowie State University, are taking a "wait-and-see" attitude while drawing up contingency plans.

At Towson last week, students reacted differently to the library hour cuts, depending on where they live and study.

"I think it stinks," said Ellen O'Neal, a freshman psychology major and dormitory resident.

Business major Cindy Lee, who said she does most of her studying at her off-campus apartment, was unaffected. "I honestly hadn't noticed," she said.

Ms. Laitta says students could be in for a shock. "This is the beginning of the semester," she said. "Wait till the end."

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