ANNAPOLIS – At first glance, it was almost believable.
But an e-mail message announcing the University System of Maryland’s flagship campus would shut down Friday due to budget constraints turned out to be a hoax.
Signed by “Colonel Cathcart” – presumably a reference to George Cathcart, a spokesman for the University of Maryland, College Park – the note said the campus had no other choice but to “shut down in its entirety” for a day, the result of hefty state budget cuts.
“Dining services will still be running so that students may eat, and the student union will remain open,” the message said. “However, all classes are cancelled and most staff and faculty will not be on campus.”
Not so, said university officials.
“Basically during the evening hours, someone sent out a large batch of e- mails to thousands of people” said Steven Hnou, an employee in the Office of Information Technology. “We’re still looking into it.”
The announcement turned up in about 3,500 e-mail boxes Friday morning, most on a “goalsstudy” list of addresses, prompting university officials to post a clarification on the campus Web site and leave a voice recording on the information line.
“We do know that it came from on campus,” said Terry Flannery, executive director of university marketing and communication. “We have an investigation underway . . . this is a fairly serious concern.”
While the author of the note used language similar to what has been written in other official campus communication, Flannery said the letter had holes. It urged students to “pay careful attention to the candidates you vote for in the upcoming elections,” a statement that would likely never come from campus officials, she said. And the message misidentified Cathcart.
“We were laughing quite a bit about that,” Flannery said.
There was, however, some truth behind the note.
Public colleges and universities statewide have been forced to tighten purse strings this year because of the state’s growing budget deficit. Lawmakers first slashed the system’s budget by $67 million in 2004, and last week approved another $4.7 million cut.
If Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoes a tax package approved last week by the General Assembly, some fear the cuts to public colleges and universities could go deeper.
Ehrlich’s spokesman, Henry Fawell, said the governor is still working on the budget, and “there’s no predetermined effort to target higher education.”
At College Park, recent reductions have forced officials to abandon hiring searches for nearly 50 positions, resulting in fewer classes being taught by core faculty members. The university also plans to lay off at least 75 employees and freeze some hiring.