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University of Maryland Baltimore President Jay Perman. (File)

Md. university officials want more time to consider uniting campuses

While University System of Maryland officials generally support a legislative proposal to strengthen collaboration between the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, they have several concerns about the lengthy, complex bill.

So they’re asking for a year to study the idea and its implications.

The system’s Board of Regents wants 12 months to study and to develop an implementation plan for the proposal, which would allow the panel more time to discuss the specific components of the plan, Barry P. Gossett, the board’s vice chair, told members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee at a bill hearing Tuesday morning.

“While the board supports the concept of the bill, we believe that substantial additional study and significant amendments would be required before we could support its passage,” Gossett said.

Supporters say the bill is not a full merger of the schools but would unite the two campuses under the name “The University of Maryland” and foster more collaboration between the research institution in College Park and the professional schools in Baltimore. Additionally, allowing the two to be considered as a single school would result in improved national rankings, supporters say.

The plan would move the university system headquarters from Adelphi to Baltimore and establish new centers to support entrepreneurship, commercialization of university research and to establish new tech companies in Baltimore.

The 38-page proposal, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, and backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr, builds on an existing partnership between the two schools known as “MPower,” which officials say generated $79 million in joint research funding in its first three years and has taken the number of joint faculty appointments between the campuses from one to 60.

Miller told the committee that the University of Maryland’s peers institutions, such as those in the Big Ten athletic conference, have professional schools tied with their flagship campuses. The plan would attract more millennials to live in downtown Baltimore. The Inner Harbor would become the “Innovative Inner Harbor,” he said.

But a key point of contention in the proposal is whether the two schools should share a single president. The bill paves the way for such a change in the future but does not mandate it.

Gossett said the appointment of a single president isn’t supported by a majority of the university system’s Board of Regents, but USM Chancellor Robert L. Caret told the committee that having two presidents might prevent the two campuses from being considered as a single institution in national rankings.

More analysis is needed, Caret said, echoing the call for an implementation and study period. After that time, system officials would return to lawmakers with revised language they would be willing to support, he said.

Miller told reporters later Tuesday morning that the requested time to study the bill and develop an implementation plan was already build into the legislation because the funding provisions don’t kick in until fiscal 2018.

“We’ve anticipated that,” he said, going on to call the proposal “an amazing bill” and noting that it’s earned the support of Baltimore business leaders like Peter Angelos and Kevin Plank.

“It’s about understanding where the state needs to be in the future and learning from other states,”Miller said.

The leaders of two institutions in question, though both are supportive of increased collaboration, remain split on the ideal number of presidents.

Dr. Jay A. Perman, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, told the committee it was crucial for each campus to remain its autonomy, particularly considering his school’s ties to the surrounding community in Baltimore.

Perman reminded lawmakers of his oath as a physician to “first do no harm,” and called for an amendment that guaranteed a president on each campus.

College Park President Wallace D. Loh compared the two institutions to different horses working together to pull the same cart and hence amplifying their strengths.

Eventually, perhaps not even in his lifetime, that cart will need a single driver to maximize the impact of the MPower collaboration, Loh said.

Former USM Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, who retired last year, testified that he “enthusiastically” endorsed the bill, but encouraged lawmakers to remove the provision that would allow for a single president.

Kirwan said he opposed a previous plan to merge the two campuses in 2011 because it would not have allowed for dual leadership, and the the Baltimore campus shouldn’t be managed part-time or remotely from College Park.

“Baltimore needs and deserves to have a president overseeing all of UMB’s assets who is an engaged member of that community,” Kirwan said.