ANNAPOLIS – Before William Kirwan left the state in 1998 to become president of the Ohio State University, the former University of Maryland, College Park, president spoke in Annapolis about his vision for universities in Maryland.
For the state to realize the full benefit of higher education, there needed to be greater collaboration between its flagship, the University of Maryland, College Park, and the professional schools at University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Now chancellor of the University System of Maryland, Kirwan’s vision took a step toward reality Thursday when the system’s Board of Regents voted to approve a structured collaboration between UMCP and UMB.
“In a real sense, this is a dream come true for me,” Kirwan said. “It’s really a very fulfilling moment for me.”
Numerous changes would be made under the plan adopted during a meeting held in the Governor’s Reception Room in the State House, including the creation of joint degree programs and the establishment of a group to promote technology commercialization, called University of Maryland Ventures.
The plan would also create a School of Public Health that spans both campuses and increase the system’s presence at the Universities at Shady Grove in Montgomery County, perhaps even hiring a dean to direct academic programs there, Kirwan said. And a new center, the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Imaging, will support projects that apply advances in computing to medical research.
Dubbed the University of Maryland Initiatives, the collaboration efforts will be led by UMCP President Wallace Loh and UMB President Jay Perman. The university provosts will direct a steering committee, which will then carry out the initiatives set forth by Loh and Perman.
Perman said the collaboration was a “model for systems across the country,” and Loh said the move would immediately increase both universities’ stature among competitors.
“The reason why this is going to work well is because we have two powerhouse universities that are complementary and do not overlap,” Loh said.
The collaboration — chosen over a full merger after an eight-month study by the board — comes with an ultimate price tag of $45 million, building up over a five- to 10-year period.
The money would come from a mix of reallocated system funds, private fund raising and state and federal appropriations, Kirwan said.
But Kirwan said the cost would be covered — and then some — by “substantial grant funding” in the hundreds of millions of dollars that would flood in once the two powerhouse institutions initiate the two-phase implementation plan, which begins with the search for a dean to direct programs at Shady Grove and seeking new accreditation for the joint School of Public Health.
“I think this is a very important moment for the University System of Maryland,” Kirwan said.
Gov. Martin O’Malley said greater cooperation between the two schools would make higher education an even greater selling point for the state.
He also praised state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, who first raised the question of merging or otherwise forcing greater collaboration between the institutions in Baltimore and College Park.
“He … saw very clearly … that sometimes [they] did not work collaboratively as well as they should,” O’Malley said.
Creating that level of cooperation, and placing greater emphasis on moving research taking place there into the marketplace, will be critical to fueling Maryland’s innovation economy, he said.
“It’s a great first step. It’s a grand first step,” Miller said. “It’s about helping our students” and creating new jobs in the state.
Loh said the push behind the collaboration is about jobs and doing them “cheaper, better or both.”
According Patricia S. Florestano, vice chair of the regents, studying and ultimately voting for the collaboration was part of the board’s continuing efforts to look for efficiencies within the system. She said collaborations between other universities in the system were a possibility.
“You don’t know what the time is going to bring,” she said.
Earl F. “Buddy” Hance, also the state’s Agriculture Secretary, was the only one of the 17-member board that voted against the measure. Hance said he was concerned about the money — about $4.5 million annually — that would be spent as the collaboration is implemented.
“I’m just concerned about the cost,” Hance said. “It’s a good program. It may all work out.”