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UMB community is full of merger questions

Students and faculty members at the University of Maryland, Baltimore expressed apprehension Thursday about a proposed merger of that school and the state’s flagship campus in College Park.

The University System of Maryland is studying the potential merger under a mandate from the General Assembly to examine the pros and cons of combining the state’s largest public university with UMB, which includes the system’s professional schools.

The system’s Board of Regents will hear formal testimony on the merger proposal in a pair of hearings — from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 21 in Baltimore and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. a week later at the University of Maryland, College Park.

UMB President Jay Perman hosted an hour-long question and answer session Thursday at Westminster Hall. About 90 faculty members, students and administrators attended.

Questions ranged from procedural — will the hearings be streamed online — to more consequential.

Asked if a merger would lead to layoffs, Perman said that would be addressed only if the university system recommends a merger.

“I don’t think in this process that will be addressed, but that’s not to say those concerns are not valid,” he said.

UMB law professor Larry S. Gibson, a faculty member for 38 years, is a member of the team studying the merger.

“What is broken that we’re trying to fix? And secondly, what is not broken that, if we’re not careful, we’ll likely break?” he said after the meeting.

Gibson also said that adding another layer of bureaucracy to the current administration could reduce UMB’s ability to connect with the Baltimore community and could sap power from the academic leaders there.

“I think most people have assumed if there is one [headquarters for a merged UMB and UMCP] it would be in College Park,” he said.

Questioners asked who has the final say — legislators or the university system’s Board of Regents — and why UMB was singled out in the merger proposal instead of other Maryland schools.

“I just don’t feel like I know enough about” the process,” said Janet Sinder, who works in UMB’s Thurgood Marshall Law Library.

The legislature included the merger study mandate in the state budget passed this spring. If the regents find that a merger is “feasible and appropriate,” they are expected to outline the legislative changes needed to make it happen.

The General Assembly will make the final decision on the merger, but Perman said he expects lawmakers to follow the advice of the regents.

Advocates for merging UMCP and UMB argue that combining the academic programs and research funding would create a more prestigious institution.

Perman did not take a position on the merger Thursday, but he and other UMB officials repeatedly brought up the dearth of mergers in U.S. higher education like the one proposed in Maryland.

He pointed to the “rich intellectual exchanges” between University of California, Berkeley and the professional schools across the bay at University of California, San Francisco, where Perman taught from 1977 to 1984.

“They’ve never merged, but they’re part of the same system,” Perman said.

For UMB, the merger discussion is nothing new. An earlier proposal prompted the creation of the university system in 1988.