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Bill now keeps two UM presidents; Miller says one is better

Revisions to a bill in Annapolis will make sure two Maryland universities maintain separate presidents, but the Senate president still favors having a single leader oversee the schools.

Members of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee have tweaked a proposal to unite the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore into a single university, eliminating $61 million in mandated construction spending and removing a provision that would have allowed, but not required, a single president.

“Eventually, you’re going to need an overseer of both campuses, but at the same time we need a strong presence on both campuses to make certain neither campus is neglected,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Wednesday morning, adding that he was willing to support the committee’s changes.

Miller said he supports the current presidents of each campus and wants them to stay for a as long as they desire, but he said he favored having one president “sometime in the future” as the schools work more closely together.

The legislation is intended to build on the existing “MPowering the State” partnership between the two schools, which officials say has led to $79 million in joint research funding in its first three years and increased the number of joint faculty appointments.

While officials from both campuses like the idea of strengthening that partnership, the idea of having one president became a point of contention. The move is favored by UMCP President Wallace Loh but has drawn criticism from UMB President Dr. Jay A. Perman, University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert L. Caret, and members of the USM Board of Regents.

One of the reasons for combining the schools is to boost their federal research rankings by reporting one total figure for research expenditures on the two campuses, supporters say.

Combining the two figures could allow the reconfigured University of Maryland to rank higher than schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for total research expenditures. A higher ranking means more research opportunities for the state, according to the bill.

But both Perman and Caret expressed concern that there would need to be a single president in order to get a single ranking; Perman says that would jeopardize his university’s autonomy and its commitments to the surrounding community.

The research rankings cited by supporters are based on an annual survey conducted by National Science Foundation, which since 2010 has required that a separate figure be reported from each geographically separate campus with its own president or chancellor so individual campuses aren’t unfairly compared with multi-campus institutions.

Senator Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, believes there’s a way to submit a combined score while maintaining separate presidents.

Some universities with both undergraduate research campuses and professional, graduate school campuses have formed joint research foundations that can report as a single entity, Ferguson said.

The revised bill calls for the two presidents to explore such mechanisms, Ferguson said.

The bill also would also move the university system’s headquarters from Adelphi, near College Park, to Baltimore, and create new centers to support entrepreneurship, commercialization of university research, and to establish new tech companies in Baltimore.

As initially drafted, the bill set aside $4 million per year in general funds to support the efforts of the tech commercialization center for four years and another $10 million per year in ongoing general fund spending to support the entrepreneurship center.

The committee amendments add another $4 million per year from fiscal 2018 to fiscal 2021 so the university system can supplement the budgets of some institutions.

But the committee removed a provision requiring the governor to provide $61.1 million in capital funds to build a new biomedical and engineering building at the Universities at Shady Grove, an education center in Montgomery County where several institutions offer classes.

The full Senate is expected to continue discussing the bill Thursday morning.

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