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Md. lawmakers eye plan to join UM campuses

Md. lawmakers eye plan to join UM campuses

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A legislative proposal to combine the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore also includes millions in new funding to commercialize university research and support entrepreneurship.

But spending requirements included in the lengthy bill don’t sit well with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The bill doesn’t call for a full merger of the schools, but would redefine the University of Maryland as including both the College Park and Baltimore campuses, each of which would keep its own president – at least for now.

Among other provisions, the bill calls for a general fund allocation of $1 million per year for four years to develop university technology companies and encourage them to locate in Baltimore.

During that time, another $3 million per year would fund a new, Baltimore-based Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures, which would facilitate those efforts and pursue additional funding through grants.

“As we look forward in the city of Baltimore, we have to find more ways to connect ourselves to the Washington metropolitan region to stimulate economic activity,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate.

Funding provisions

The proposal also calls for an ongoing $10 million per year in general funds to support a new Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Development, to be in College Park. That center would develop degree and credentialing programs for students in fields such as virtual reality, neuroscience and cybersecurity and track the number of patents and new companies that emerge from these programs, according to the bill.

The governor would also be required to allocate about $61 million for the construction of biomedical and engineering building at the Universities of Shady Grove, a campus in Montgomery County where several public universities offer classes.

The Hogan administration is still looking at the potential impacts of the bill, spokeswoman Shareese Churchill said in an email.

“However, the mandated spending included in this legislation is obviously a very serious concern,” Churchill wrote. “At a time when the administration is trying to hold the line on new spending the legislature is proposing hundreds of millions of dollars in new mandates”

The proposal, co-sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., builds on an existing partnership between the two schools known as “MPower,” which generated $79 million in joint research funding in its first three years, according to the bill.

Part of that initiative was to combine each university’s technology transfer and commercialization operations into a single effort known as UM Ventures, which has contributed to a 100 percent increase in tech transfer and a 72 percent increase in licensing revenue over the past five years, according to the bill.

Ferguson sees UM Ventures and the proposed new Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures building off one another.

“Ventures would be helping to do seed capital,” Ferguson said. “As these companies sort of mature and scale, we would want to bring them to Baltimore and help them launch and grow.” That connection presents a real chance for long-term job growth and economic activity, Ferguson said.

Other provisions

The bill also calls for moving the University System of Maryland headquarters, currently located in Adelphi, not far from College Park, to Baltimore by July 2017.

The university system’s Board of Regents met Wednesday to discuss the proposal.  While there was broad support for generally continuing and strengthening collaboration between the two universities, there was “a wide range of opinions” presented and no consensus was reached among the regents on the legislation, according to USM spokesman Mike Lurie.

Among the concerns discussed was whether each institution would continue to have its own president, and how the two universities’ rankings would be affected if they were to share one president, Lurie said.

The bill calls for each campus to retain its own president but allows for the Board of Regents to appoint a single president if one of the two leaves their office.

University System Chancellor Robert L. Caret said in a statement that system leadership was still analyzing the proposal, which was complex and had “wide-ranging” implications for the entire system.

Caret and some of the regents are expected to offer testimony at bill hearing before the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee Tuesday morning, Lurie said.


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