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UMCP, UMB to create collaborative school of public health

ADELPHI — After more than a year of politicking and planning, Maryland’s flagship university and its university that houses premier medical and law schools announced Tuesday the most meaningful signal of greater collaboration between the institutions to date.

University system Chancellor William E. ‘Brit’ Kirwan, left, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., at Tuesday’s announcement.

The University of Maryland, College Park and University of Maryland, Baltimore are applying to have one accredited collaborative school of public health, University System of Maryland officials said.

The universities have begun a national accreditation process that, if successful, would allow the first master’s of public health degrees to be issued by the collaborative school in 2014.

The initiative stems from a 2011 General Assembly mandate that the institutions study the potential benefits of merging, at the urging of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s. Merger was ruled out, but the system’s board of regents decided to form a strategic partnership between the universities in March.

“It’s a major step forward for the state,” Miller said of Tuesday’s announcement.

University system Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan said the collaborative school made sense because it will give more opportunities to students studying at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park and the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, where a public health master’s degree is offered.

“We’re talking [about] two programs with excellent faculty and students, both with complementary strengths,” Kirwan said. “It’s a very cost-effective way [to grow].”

Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the collaboration is coming at an important time.

The public health field has a “major challenge” in handling chronic disease and faces special difficulties in Prince George’s County, where residents consistently lag behind those in neighboring jurisdictions in many areas of health, including the prevalence of obesity, cancer and heart disease.

Both UMB President Jay A. Perman and UMCP President Wallace D. Loh praised the collaboration for improving both schools’ public health programs. Loh said years’ worth of progress toward cooperation between the universities was made in the last six months.

The new partnership between the two universities also includes the creation of UM Ventures, a joint effort between the technology transfer offices UMB and UMCP aimed at better commercializing the $1 billion in research conducted annually between the two institutions. Perman said a director for UM Ventures would be announced in the next couple of weeks.

“There’s lots of activity, real activity,” he said.

Miller, a graduate of both institutions, says the universities need to continue to find ways to cooperate so they can lasso more government and private research money. The economy has changed, he said, and so must the universities that feed it.

He recalled campaigning in 1962 outside of Bethlehem Steel Corp. and Sweetheart Cup Co. in Baltimore County. Neither company exists today.

“We would wait at the factory gates,” said Miller, a member of the General Assembly since 1971. “The factory gates are no longer there.”

The schools would become the fourth collaborative school of public health created in the nation since 2001. Officials said pooling resources allows the schools to offer more complete academic and research opportunities.

No positions will be lost through the collaboration, Kirwan said, but more jobs could be necessary if enrollment increases or more research dollars are funneled into the collaborative school.

The chancellor predicted “significant growth in external funding.”

In the meantime, each institution’s department heads are getting to know each other and their programs better, helping them recognize areas for more collaboration.

Jane E. Clark, named dean of the School of Public Health in College Park in May, summed up the change in her day with a laugh.

“I’m on the phone to Baltimore a lot more,” she said.