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Md. House passes modified UM partnership bill

The Maryland House of Delegates approved legislation calling for stronger ties between two University of Maryland institutions Wednesday after a committee amended the bill to clarify that the two schools are not merging.

The bill now has the blessing of the University System of Maryland, which said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the revised bill would build on an existing partnership while also benefiting the system’s other institutions.

Concern that the proposal would effectively combine the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore into a single institution prompted criticism from some higher education officials, who worried that the Baltimore school would lose its autonomy.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City, said the changes clarified the autonomy of both campuses and both presidents.

The proposal builds on and codifies an existing collaboration between the universities, which supporters say has increased both research awards and commercialization of university technology.

As amended, the bill stresses that the new arrangement would only formalize a “strategic partnership” between the “two distinct campuses within the University System of Maryland” and defines that partnership as an attempt to leverage the resources of each campus to strengthen academic programs, research, technology commercialization, public service and community development.

When initially proposed, the bill included a provision that would allow the university system’s Board of Regents to appoint a single president to oversee both campuses when a vacancy next arose, but the Senate removed it after listening to the objections of UMB President Jay A. Perman and other officials.

The Senate passed its version of the bill earlier this month, and is expected to approve the House amendments Thursday morning.

The proposal also calls for creating a new center to support the research commercialization, to be located on the Baltimore campus, and a center to support entrepreneurship, to be located on the College Park campus.

Delegates preserved a $4 million annual allocation for the commercialization center but chose to reduce and phase in an annual allocation for the entrepreneurship center from $10 million to $2 million in fiscal 2018, $4 million in 2019 and $6 million in 2020 and for each following year.

The bill passed by the Senate increased the allocation to the university system by $4 million each year from fiscal 2018 through 2021 so funding for two residential institutions – the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Towson University – can be brought closer to the funding levels of peer institutions in other states.

Delegates kept that provision, but added language that would require the USM Board of Regents to work with Senate and House budget committees to develop a plan to help all of the system’s institutions move closer to those funding levels.

“The funding for all of the campuses is something that we’re concerned about,” McIntosh said.

The bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, Baltimore City Democrat Bill Ferguson, said he was content with most of the House changes.

“Some of the amendments I was not so favorable towards,” Ferguson said, adding that he would have preferred to keep a provision directing the two partner institutions to explore creating a joint faculty senate.

“That’s where the real collaboration happens between campuses – the people,” Ferguson said. “I just hope that the two institutions choose voluntarily to move in that direction.”