Civic and campus leaders in College Park rallied around the merger idea, saying the research interests of the two campuses would blend perfectly and that undergraduates on the flagship campus would benefit from access to top medical and legal researchers in Baltimore.
"Without a merger, what we see in the historical record — a lack of major collaborations and a number of missed opportunities — is what we'll get in the future," said former College Park President C.D. "Dan" Mote.
But the idea drew bitter opposition from Baltimore leaders, including Rawlings-Blake, who argued that a merger would be the equivalent of the city losing a major corporate headquarters.
Rawlings-Blake praised UMB as a key force in west-side redevelopment and said the university's impact in city neighborhoods could be diminished if its leaders were relocated to College Park.
"The mayor is very pleased to learn about the vote," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said after Friday's meeting. "She has always supported the idea of increased collaboration."
Students and faculty at the Baltimore campus also opposed the merger, as did the leaders of other universities in the system, who said they would struggle to compete for resources with the resulting research giant.
"A merger, to be successful, has to have unified support across the two organizations," Kirwan said. "And we didn't have that."
Even critics of the proposal said the institutions could benefit from more substantial collaboration.
The regents recommended the creation of a joint operation devoted to creating businesses from the research performed on both campuses. They asked the campuses to create joint programs in bioscience and biomedical research, public policy, law, sociology and social services. Finally, they asked the universities to facilitate joint faculty appointments so top researchers aren't limited to one campus.
"I think we all agree this alliance creates a tremendous potential for collaboration and greatness," said Regent Gary L. Attman.
Fellow board member Tom McMillen praised the plan, but added that he worries about a potential lack of funding for the new joint programs.
"My concern here is that we're going into an indeterminate fiscal climate in the state," he said. "What happens if there is no money? Can we still make this happen? We still have to find a way to have some accomplishment, even if resources are very meager."
Loh echoed those concerns.
"I have a philosophy that no money equals no mission," he said. "I think that if you are going to do a new collaboration with new things, it's going to cost money."
The regents called for Kirwan, Loh and Perman to compose an action plan incorporating the recommendations by March 1.
The next two months, Loh said, "are where the rubber meets the road."