University of Maryland, College Park President Wallace Loh discussed the university’s role in Maryland’s economy, how the university has taken on a real estate role and where he would like to see the school improve at the monthly BWI Business Partnership Breakfast Wednesday.
Here are four takeaways from Loh’s discussion:
1. “We are not in the real estate development business,” but investing in the community
With the Discovery District, the Hotel at University of Maryland, and other developments, the university has taken a more active role in the development of College Park around the school’s campus. Much of this has come from Loh’s feeling that College Park needed to resemble more of a college town, like the one he had when he was the provost at the University of Iowa. The university has generated $1 billion of private funding for College Park’s development over the past two years, Loh said.
The university hopes these developments keep undergraduates around. Loh cited Brendan Iribe, the Oculus co-founder who dropped out of Maryland and moved to Silicon Valley where he helped create the company and sold it to Facebook for $2 billion. Loh estimated about 20 percent of College Park students eventually leave Maryland.
“I think that every student we lose, a student who has been educated here and, of course, paid by the taxpayers of the state, if they leave that’s a loss for the state,” he said.
He hopes amenities like grocery stores, non-student housing and other developments entice more future entrepreneurs to make their home in College Park.
2. Loh wants the university to do a better job of “teaching the heart and the spirit.”
While universities do a good job of educating the mind, Loh said, he thinks universities should be taking a more active role in teaching students to participate in the world.
“I really believe that the university in a free society should also pay attention to nurturing the heart and the spirit,” he said. “It is also our obligation that when they go out, not only are they gainfully employed, but they know how to live rightly in a free society.”
Loh also said there needs to be a commitment to America’s values.
“What are the values that define a national character?” he asked. “Values such as a commitment to a freedom of expression, to an open press based upon truth, on civic skills, on how to listen respectfully to ideas that you disagree with and know how to engage them rather than always demonizing the other side as the enemy. Because we are all American citizens. There is room for diversity. Those are the values and the skills that we are no longer teaching in the university, and we certainly aren’t teaching civics in high school.”
Loh has been a vocal advocate for immigrants, speaking out against President Donald Trump’s immigration ban at the beginning of his term and offering support for people in the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
3. The University of Maryland is a major economic engine for the state, and Loh expects that reach to grow to encompass the Mid-Atlantic region.
“The I-95 corridor will be a major engine, if not the major engine, for economic development in the mid-Atlantic,” Loh said.
Where universities once generated knowledge, Loh said he believes they now have a responsibility to use that knowledge for the betterment of their communities.
“A university was an ivory tower,” he said. “At the top of that tower, a professor sat there and they thought great thoughts, they discovered new knowledge, and they transmitted that knowledge to their students. In the 21st century, at the bottom of that tower are innovation incubators, and they transfer that knowledge to have an impact on society, to improve the quality of life, to address the major issues that we face.”
Much of this economic development has come into play through the university’s development efforts. Inside the parking garage of the Hotel at the University of Maryland is an incubator. A co-working space will be coming to College Park soon. And the University System of Maryland has created a fund for early-stage companies.
4. The partnership between the College Park and Baltimore campuses has been successful.
When Loh came to the university, there was just one joint appointment between the two campuses. Today there are more than 60, he said. Many of those appointments have come through such fields as engineering, law, medicine, nursing and social work.
The development of the partnership between the two campuses has also generated more than $80 million in funding that neither university would have been able to attract on its own, he said.
Combined, the universities have also doubled the number of startup companies using technology developed on campus.
Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted Loh. He said, “We are not in the real estate development business.”