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As higher education officials and student leaders wait forGov. Martin O’Malley to decide if he will call for a special legislative session, they are preparing for the worst should next year’s nearly $50 million cut to the University System of Maryland stay in place.
At a Student Government Association meeting last night, university President Wallace Loh said he and university Provost Ann Wylie have begun forming a plan, which he said may be completed in about a week. In an interview yesterday, Loh said while it is difficult to predict what may happen should O’Malley call a special session, the present budget would have a drastic effect on higher education, leading to higher tuition, program cuts and larger class sizes.
“We are not going to wait until July 1 to start burning the midnight oil,” Loh said. “You plan for contingencies. Just like you plan for tornados and things of that sort, you plan for financial crises.”
He said details of the plan have not yet been determined.
Last night, the SGA voted unanimously in support of O’Malley calling a special legislative session, since lawmakers failed to pass a bill generating revenue to the state via taxes and fees. It passed what some officials are calling a “doomsday” budget that could result in a $63 million cut to higher education and a $50 million cut to the system, according to university lobbyist Ross Stern. However, if the revenue-generating bills are passed in a special session, the system will see $5.3 million in cuts.
During the past two days, student leaders and system officials discussed the best time and means of action to respond to these proposed cuts, according to SGA Director of Governmental Affairs Zach Cohen. He added they are also awaiting concrete estimates on what potential tuition hikes — which Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) has estimated at about 10 percent — the system may face before they take action. Student leaders are taking about a week to calculate their plan of action.
“It would be irresponsible to start something if we don’t even know what it is,” Cohen said. “I can promise something is going to happen, and we’re going to be all over it.”
System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, who said system administrators were “all very shocked” by the outcome in Annapolis Monday night, sent out a message to the university community urging leaders to contact their legislators and lobby to protect higher education funding.
Additionally, he noted system officials are working to brainstorm what it would do if the system faces the $50 million cut.
“I don’t think it was in anybody’s mind that that could happen. ... People who understand and know the process were all totally thrown off guard,” Kirwan said. “In this instance, we’re more or less in a state of wonder of how we get to a conclusion to a budget that’s different than the rather calamitous budget that we have at the moment.”
Loh said the university will do everything in its power to mitigate the potentially adverse effects.
“Basically, [the ‘doomsday’ budget] will significantly dilute the quality of the university. And it will impose a very significant financial burden on the students and their families,” Loh said. “If you simply make cuts, which are painful to make, and you simply raise revenues because there’s only so much you can increase without having a revolt, you have to invest in the future.”
When Loh spoke to SGA members at their meeting last night, he encouraged them to continue to fight to keep their education affordable.
“I really appreciate your efforts to make the student voices heard,” Loh told SGA members. “Continue your lobbying. We of course are quietly lobbying, and the governor will call the General Assembly back into session whenever he decides to call it back into session.”
Senior staff writers Rebecca Lurye and Jim Bach contributed to this report.
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