COLLEGE PARK – Standing near a banner reading “Students and Workers Unite,” Bryan Zidek taught a mock economic lesson in the middle of McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland Thursday.
The group posing as Zidek’s class included staff and student protesters, who say budget cuts unfairly target them while sparing the salaries of highly paid faculty.
“Students and workers can’t look at this with only our own specific issues in mind,” said Tim Daly, student body president. “What (the administration) didn’t expect was that we would combine our efforts to bring about change.”
About 30 people turned out for the rally, which began with the skit by Zidek, a staff health physicist.
The protest was one of a series of criticisms of state budget cuts that left universities among the hardest hit.
College Park’s nearly $370 million budget was cut by about $70 million during the legislative session, which concluded last April.
When rising operating expenses were added to that, the university was left with an $81 million shortfall, said George Cathcart, university spokesman.
Nearly half of the amount was made up by increasing tuition, much of the rest came from eliminating 280 positions, including laying off 70 workers. While some professorships have remained unfilled, no one on the academic faculty was affected by the layoffs.
“We wanted to be certain that we maintained the academic quality of the school,” Cathcart said.
To demonstrate the impact of these decisions to the crowd, Zidek wrote the number “$358,000” on a makeshift blackboard.
“Can anyone tell me what this number is?” he asked.
Daly jumped out of his seat and raised his hand, “The percent that tuition has been raised at College Park?”
“Pretty close,” Zidek said with a laugh, before explaining that, in fact, it is the salary of University President C.D. Mote Jr.
Actually, Zidek explained, tuition has risen 21 percent in the past year, and could go up by another 11 percent next year.
That angered protesters, many of whom yelled, “Cap tuition increases,” before breaking out in a chant of “No layoffs. No furloughs. No tuition hikes” and marching around the mall.
“I’m considering taking more classes each semester and graduating early so that my parents don’t have to pay my rent for as long,” said Amy Lee, 20, a junior from Columbia.
Staff members, who Zidek pointed out have not gotten a raise in the past two years, are equally anxious and outraged.
“I’m mad at the way they are treating us. They’ve laid people off and now we have to do more work for the same pay,” said Carmen Valladares, a mother of four from Beltsville who has worked in residential facilites for 16 years.
The rally occurred just two days after lawmakers at a joint budget hearing expressed concern over rising tuition costs at Maryland’s universities.
“I teach . . . and I have students who are waiting tables 30, 35 hours a week in order to make ends meet,” said Delegate Frank Turner, D-Howard. “We can no longer afford to balance the budget on the back of higher education.”
– 30 – CNS-9-25-03