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Downtown Partnership wants UM merger ‘off the table’

Downtown Partnership wants UM merger ‘off the table’

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A partial merger of the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore that’s being considered by state lawmakers will be bad for Baltimore, according to leadership of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc.

“Downtown Baltimore and UMB are in a symbiotic relationship with each other,” J. Kirby Fowler Jr., the organization’s president, wrote in a letter posted Monday to the partnership’s website. “Our fortunes are inextricably tied together.”

At issue is the possible migration of UMB’s leadership to College Park after years of working closely with the Baltimore community.

“When I need to meet, UMB is there. When we need to talk about improvements to the campus, UMB’s senior team is there. When we need to discuss conditions around Lexington Market, UMB’s leaders are there,” Fowler wrote. “Simply put, UMB’s senior team, based in Baltimore, does not require constant re-education about the names of neighborhood leaders or the details of community relations because they experience Baltimore City every day.”

The UMB campus has helped bring theaters, restaurants and hundreds of residential units to its surrounding neighborhood in a relatively short period of time, Fowler wrote.

The bill would combine the two campuses into a single “University of Maryland” as part of a plan to increase collaboration between the two, strengthen joint economic development efforts and increase research funding. As initially proposed, the bill gave the University System of Maryland Board of Regents the power to appoint a single president to oversee the campuses at some point in the future.

A Senate committee removed that provision last week after it was criticized by officials including UMB President Jay A. Perman and former USM Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, who feel the leadership of the Baltimore campus should remain in Baltimore and not operate remotely from College Park.

But the one-president proposal may still resurface: College Park President Wallace Loh supports moving toward a single president in the future, as does Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

“Perman and his management team serve on boards of directors of innumerable local organizations, something that would be impossible to replicate should senior staff be located in College Park,” Fowler wrote.

Perman is the chairman of the Downtown Partnership but recused himself from the organization’s discussions and decisions relating to the letter, Fowler wrote.

A merger should be “off the table,” or at least subject to an extensive study period, according to Fowler.

University System of Maryland officials also asked the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee for such a study period, but it was not included in the committee’s changes to the bill.

The Senate passed the bill Friday; it must still be approved by the House of Delegates.

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