State government's $1 billion budget crisis is forcing the University of Maryland to take some overdue steps to bring about a more coherent and compact public higher-education system. By the time the downsizing is over, UM probably will have fewer institutions, fewer program offerings and fewer research ventures. But what remains is likely to be far better focused and adequately funded.
When Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg was formally inaugurated this summer, he talked about shaking up the UM hierarchy and questioning how the university system can deliver its services more effectively and more efficiently. The state's budget dilemma is accelerating that process.
Not only did the UM board of regents recently impose a 15 percent one-semester surcharge on students, it endorsed Dr. Langenberg's plan to study a variety of steps to trim costs without affecting the quality of education programs. This could include the likely merger of the university's professional and medical campus in downtown Baltimore with its high-tech-oriented campus in Catonsville. Not only would this merger cut millions in administrative expenses but it would improve education offerings for students and also open up vast new vistas for many researchers on the two Baltimore-area campuses.
Other likely moves include cutting back on academic programs deemed least essential, greater use of furloughs of employees during the year, a tighter hiring freeze, elimination of duplicative academic courses, shrinking the size of the university's administrative arm and slimming down UM's high administrative salary structure.
No longer can UM depend on the state to pump a vast supply of dollars into higher education coffers. Those glory days are over. As the state struggles to find enough money simply to maintain basic services, educators have to get serious about downsizing their campuses and experimenting with innovative, lower-cost methods for teaching students and conducting research. Dr. Langenberg did not wait for the budget crisis to worsen before acting. His forceful stance is propelling the board of regents in a new direction, one which may prompt them to set funding priorities in public higher education. That's a step the regents should have taken years ago.