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Jay Perman. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

USM officials request more changes to UM partnership bill

While changes made by the Maryland Senate have improved a proposal to more closely link two University of Maryland institutions, university system officials say they would like to see further revisions.

There was broad consensus that the intent of the proposal – building on an existing partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore and creating new centers to promote entrepreneurship and commercialization of university research – was sound.

But officials, including UMB President Jay A. Perman and University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert L. Caret, said they worry that the perception that the two institutions would be merging is causing consternation.

Both men asked the House Appropriations Committee at a bill hearing to amend the proposal, clarifying that it calls for a enhancing an existing partnership between the two institutions, not a merger.

As passed by the Senate earlier this month, the bill calls for redefining the two schools as distinct campuses within a unified University of Maryland — but ensuring that each campus would have its own president.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City and backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., seeks to make permanent an existing agreement between the two schools known as “MPowering the State,” which officials say has led to increased joint research funding and more joint faculty appointments.

Perman and College Park president Wallace D. Loh both told the committee that codifying that agreement would make sure it lasted beyond their tenures.

The bill initially included a provision that would have allowed the USM Board of Regents to appoint a single president to oversee the two campuses in the future; that provision was removed after objections from officials including Perman, who worried that it would threaten his campus’s autonomy and commitments to the surrounding West Baltimore community.

Caret, representing himself and the Board of Regents, requested the bill be clarified to explicitly give each president “the power to act locally and independently within their communities,” according to written testimony submitted the committee.

The Senate bill also increases funding to the USM by $4 million each year from fiscal 2018 through 2021 so funding for its residential institutions can be brought closer to the levels of peer institutions in other states.

Caret asked that the bill call for more progress in bringing campuses toward those funding guidelines, and also asked that the Board of Regents be given the primary role in the implementation of the bill, if it is enacted, according to his written testimony.

The proposal prompted a “statement of concern” from the state Department of Budget & Management due to its spending requirements, including the $4 million per year funding increase, another $4 million per year that would fund a new research commercialization center, and another $10 million per year to fund a new center for entrepreneurship.

The administration of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan worries that such mandated spending provisions constrain the state’s ability to meet future funding needs, the department wrote.

The proposal also drew criticism from the Council of University System Faculty, which includes representatives from each of the system’s 12 institutions; the council argued in written testimony that there has not been enough consideration of possible negative effects of the bill on the other Maryland higher education institutions and that more time should be devoted to evaluating the plan.

Miller told the committee Tuesday that he felt that linking the universities would help draw more millennials to downtown Baltimore to live, spurring vital economic growth in the area.

“If you’re concerned about moving the state forward, you’re going to vote for this bill,” he said.