Less money, more problems at University of Maryland

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my sixteenth published opinion column, Less money, more problems, originally published March 16, 2007.

As each week goes by, we hear even more negative financial news regarding this university’s public funding. This year, the University System of Maryland is being underfunded to the tune of many millions of dollars by the General Assembly. Gov. Martin O’Malley has not yet reneged on his promise of a tuition freeze, but the promise is looking impossible to keep. In the wake of budget cuts, how else will the university be able to raise the necessary funding if not by extracting it from the pockets of its students?

We’re already facing the effects of this budget crunch. The construction of the new journalism building is being delayed by two months, a delay which could extend to much longer as the full extent of the budget deficit becomes clear. Construction of a new, desperately needed highrise dorm on North Campus has been delayed indefinitely, a travesty I wrote about in one of my previous columns. The Physics Building is old, decrepit and proving to be a huge liability to the department’s attempts to attract top-notch professors to the university. University libraries do not have enough funding to keep up subscriptions to many journals, a problem that is harshly affecting undergraduate students, graduate students and professors alike.

Unfortunately, there is precious little that can be done in the face of looming funding cuts by the General Assembly. The university has a lot of private sector deals in the works and is currently in the midst of a record fundraising campaign, but neither of these will provide the necessary immediate monetary relief. If the cost of tuition does not go up, the university will have to start cutting all sorts of programs and services. It is hard to say which is worse.

We are dependent on the General Assembly to keep up the quality of education, and they aren’t pulling through for us. I understand the State of Maryland is going through a bit of a budget crunch right now, but what other priorities are out there causing them to divert funding for education? What is more important than education? Education is our hope for the future. Any money put into education pays for itself many times over in future benefit to society.

The politicians down in Annapolis are being shortsighted. They are taking higher education for granted, targeting it as just another line item that needs to be reduced. Unfortunately, we’re making it too easy for them to get away with it. Not nearly enough of us are speaking out against these proposed budget cuts. Legislators like taking the path of least resistance; they are OK with cutting funding for the university because it generates less public outrage than for many other possible targets.

We need serious student leadership on this issue. A protest with media coverage would do wonders. This time, make it on the campus so we can all go, rather than try to bus us out to Annapolis. As a recent Diamondback editorial pointed out, the position of Student Government Association president is not about working with the University Senate on legislation, it is about representing student interests. If that means going to Annapolis to get the attention of the General Assembly or raising a huge stink on the campus to draw attention to the issue, so be it.

We are already in the preliminary stages of the next SGA election. I hope we have a strong leader among the candidates for president, one who isn’t afraid to challenge the state government and draw awareness to the pressing issue of this university’s funding. Let’s face it, what we really need is someone obnoxious. The General Assembly will think twice about cutting higher education funding if it is called out on it each time they even mention the possibility.

Unfortunately, getting politicians to put the proper focus on education is an age-old problem that has rarely been resolved satisfactorily. It’s easy to skimp out on tomorrow when there are pressing needs of today.

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