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Local students protest plans by GOP to cut financial aid


Students from Maryland universities protested in Baltimore and Washington yesterday against cuts in student financial aid and public health programs proposed by congressional Republicans.

Students at other campuses across the nation are also protesting financial aid cuts and more generally against the Republican "Contract with America."

In Baltimore, nearly 100 graduate students and staffers demonstrated for an hour on the steps of the main building at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health yesterday, waving banners, chanting slogans and wearing paper masks with the face of U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Protesters described cuts in disease prevention and research programs as heartless.

Student organizers also criticized the proposed elimination of the subsidy allowing students to defer interest on federally guaranteed loans while they are in school. Education advocacy groups say the move would add thousands of dollars to each student's debt burden.

"This is real, guys," Ellen Frishberg, director of student financial services at Hopkins' undergraduate Homewood campus, told the lunchtime protesters at the Wolfe Street building.

At about the same time, student government leaders from the University of Maryland College Park attended a rally on Capitol Hill with several hundred students from area campuses and lobbied federal officials to resist cutting student aid.

Speakers at the Hopkins rally targeted other planks of the GOP agenda for criticism, including efforts to ease federal regulations and limit funds for preventive medical programs. "What we really need is leadership, not focus groups, in making up our policy," Kate Handley, a Hopkins health policy doctoral student, said.

Before the event, Hopkins officials took pains to say that the school does not take positions on political protests because it is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization.

At UM, however, that policy is interpreted differently. UM President William E. Kirwan spoke at a campus rally last month against the proposed limits on the direct-lending program. UM withdrew from the program last month in part because of concerns that the GOP proposals would undermine its effectiveness.

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