During the last session of the General Assembly, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. proposed a merger between one of Maryland’s leading research institutions and the state’s only public academic, health, law and human services university. That combination that would yield a mega-institution serving over 40,000 students and an estimated annual operating budget of nearly $2 billion.

Miller told the legislature in March that combining the schools would ultimately raise the University of Maryland’s national and global ranking resulting in increased research funding.

“The structure of and makes it hard for our flagship institution and professional schools to compete with flagship universities and medical schools in our sister states,” said Miller. “Merging the institutions into one University of Maryland will immediately raise our national stature and benefit students, faculty and researchers at both institutions.”

Prior to implementing such a move, state officials ordered the University System of Maryland Board of Regents to conduct a study to determine the feasibility and economic impact of combining the two schools. Findings are due to the Legislature by Dec. 15.

UMB President Jay Perman penned an open letter in March stating that he agreed with Miller on the importance of collaboration between the two schools. “It is my opinion that a strong, functional relationship with UMCP will make us – and them – better,” Perman wrote. He then went on to stress the importance of each institution’s respective autonomy, “We should not, and cannot, ignore meaningful, real differences as people, as professions, as distinct institutions. In my view, we should celebrate and leverage uniqueness.” 

While both schools exist under the University of Maryland System, their campuses serve distinct populations. Less than 15 percent of degrees awarded at UMB are towards undergraduate programs. It is the state’s only public medical and dental school and also offers professional and graduate degrees in law, nursing, pharmacy and social work. UMCP offers a more traditional college tenure serving primarily undergraduates and boasting nationally ranked athletic teams.

As a part of the study, two public forums are planned for citizens to voice questions and concerns. At the first, held on Oct. 21 at UMB’s campus, city business and civic leaders, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, voiced their opposition to the merger. The Rev. Dr. Al Hathaway, senior pastor at Union Baptist Church, wrote in a prepared statement to the Board of Regents that “merging UMCP and UMB would be to the detriment of the local community.”

“There are benefits to having access to a major asset in our local community. Particularly for those residents in West Baltimore and those in the immediate communities surrounding UMB’s downtown campus,” Hathaway told the AFRO.

That access to decision makers, he said, served well during construction of UMB’s biotech park that would have displaced a widow from her east Baltimore home. Hathaway said officials were able to intervene quickly allowing the woman to remain in her home without much disruption to the park’s original footprint.?“From our vantage point having decisions that affect our community, like the redevelopment of the area and construction of the biotech park, emanate out 35 miles away from College Park is a huge negative for our community.”

Hathaway also said that the study period is too short and should be extended.
Gov. Martin O’Malley has expressed his support of the merger. “I don’t understand the benefit of having the separation,” O’Malley told the Washington Post in April. “When you put the two together, you really see what a powerhouse we have in Maryland.”

A powerhouse that others fear could eclipse Maryland’s other public institutions vying for research funding amidst tough economic times.

The second public forum is scheduled for Oct. 28 at the College Park campus.

 

Melissa Jones

Special to the AFRO