Though they have stopped short of endorsing a full merger, the presidents of the University of Maryland campuses in College Park and Baltimore have begun discussing possible collaborations that they say could improve both universities.
In their shared vision, engineering professors from College Park could devise new technologies with doctors from Baltimore. Students from the law school in Baltimore could take public policy classes in College Park. Top researchers could be attracted with joint faculty appointments at both campuses.
The presidents of the two universities, Wallace Loh in College Park and Jay Perman in Baltimore, said they expect significant changes to result from a merger study set in motion Friday by the Board of Regents.
"There's no question we can do stuff together that we can't do separately," Loh said in a recent interview. "With Jay Perman and me getting along so well, I think there's a narrow window in which we can do this. If we pull it off, we could transform both campuses."
Perman said Friday that he has enjoyed discussing the possibilities with Loh. "There are many programs on both campuses that can be enriched with input from the other campus," he said. "I don't think there's any question there are many things we could do better if we did them together."
The study, requested this spring by the General Assembly, will be conducted by a work group of regents, with input from the campuses and the public. It will focus on a set of key questions, addressing the potential for collaborations between the universities, possible benefits to reputation and research funding, projected costs and savings, and possible impacts on the communities around each campus.
Chancellor William E. Kirwan said he had run the work plan by state leaders, including the governor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who initiated the merger talk. Kirwan said the officials came away with a "clear sense that we're taking this seriously."
Loh said he sees enormous potential for collaboration between College Park's physical scientists and engineers and Baltimore's physicians. Similarly, he said, the law school in Baltimore could improve with ties to the department of philosophy and school of public policy in College Park. The university could even offer law classes at College Park's building in downtown Washington, he said.
Loh said joint faculty appointments between College Park and the medical and law schools in Baltimore could help both universities attract top researchers. Current rules make such appointments difficult to offer.
One coveted biomedical researcher did not take a job at College Park because the university could not offer him an appointment at the School of Medicine in Baltimore, Loh said.
"We are losing people because of this," he said. "But we can bring down the barriers."
Though both presidents have said they welcome the study, each has expressed wariness about a full merger.
"Let's not get caught up with the idea of one university swallowing the other," Loh said. "That's utter nonsense."
Kirwan emphasized Friday that the study does not make a merger a done deal.
In fact, one of the guiding questions asks: "As an alternative to merging the institutions or maintaining the current strategic direction, should additional models be investigated that could enhance the ability of the two institutions to facilitate cross-disciplinary learning and exchange, boost research and education programs, and enhance the national and international reputations of not just UMB and UMCP but the system and its institutions as a whole?"
According to the schedule agreed to Friday, the regents' work group will collect data in July and August, hold public hearings and develop a draft study in September and October. They will finalize the study based on input from all of the regents and state leaders in November and December.
The regents expect to submit a report on the issue before the Dec. 15 deadline set by the legislature.
Perman said his faculty members seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the study. But he expects that input from him and his deans will help shape the conclusions.
"I think the fact this has been raised will make us all better," he said.
In other business Friday, the regents gave final approval to a 3 percent increase for in-state tuition in 2011-2012 and approved $208 million in requests to the state for construction projects in 2012-2013. Those requests, subject to approval by the General Assembly, include $37 million for a performing arts and humanities center at UMBC, $29.6 million for a physical sciences building at College Park and $41.7 million for a science and technology center at Coppin State.
The regents also said farewell to Chairman Clifford Kendall, whose term expires at the end of this month. Kendall, who has been chairman for eight years, will be replaced by Orlan Johnson, an attorney from Prince George's County who has served as a regent since 2002.