Assembly approves University of Maryland partnership

General Assembly OKs bill to link UM campuses in Baltimore and College Park.

The University of Maryland's College Park campus and professional schools in Baltimore won't merge but would be more closely aligned under legislation approved Thursday by the General Assembly.

The bill, which as introduced could have combined the flagship campus and University of Maryland, Baltimore under a single president, would instead more closely link the institutions in hopes of raising their profiles, turning more research into commercial products and boosting jobs in the city.

The legislation also would require increased state spending on Towson University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which lawmakers say have been chronically underfunded. And the University System of Maryland's chancellor and some staff would move to Baltimore next year under a requirement that the system's "corporate headquarters" be established in the city.

It is unclear whether Gov. Larry Hogan will sign the bill, which the legislature's analysts say would cost the state $4.5 million next year and $37 million by 2021. Hogan has repeatedly voiced opposition to spending mandates forced on him by lawmakers, but he has not taken a position on this legislation.

"We are reviewing the final version of the bill," Hogan spokesman Matthew A. Clark said.

Advocates heralded the bill's passage, which came after the state Senate agreed to tweaks made by the House of Delegates.

"I think it's an excellent bill for the state of Maryland and the city of Baltimore," said Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the legislation. "It's not a perfect bill from my perspective, but the legislative process is about compromise."

Ferguson said the bill forges an important link between top universities in Maryland's two major metropolitan areas.

The Baltimore campus is home to professional schools for medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, law and social work, while College Park has a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. The two institutions are already sharing resources and programs through MPower, a collaboration agreement approved in 2012.

Brian Ullmann, a spokesman for College Park, praised passage of the bill.

"This bill enhances our already-strong collaboration with our colleagues at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and will enhance our significant economic impact throughout the state of Maryland," Ullmann said in a statement.

Each campus would have its own president under the final version of the bill, a key change that was made to assuage concerns that either campus might lose its sense of identity if there were one president.

Dr. Jay Perman, president of the Baltimore campus, was concerned when the bill could have merged the campuses under a single leader after one president stepped down. But on Thursday, he applauded the final version.

"We are absolutely delighted to formalize our very successful partnership with the University of Maryland, College Park," Perman said in a statement. "The bill that was approved by the legislature is a welcome step forward, enhancing our ability to provide educational opportunities for Maryland students, and to make the most of the research capabilities of our two institutions for the betterment of the state."

The bill also sets up a University of Maryland Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Development in College Park and a Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures in Baltimore, both meant to foster development and commercialization of new technology.

The cost was reduced from the original bill through amendments that phase in funding for the entrepreneurship center and scale back the university system headquarters' move from Adelphi, near College Park, to Baltimore. Some employees are likely to remain in Adelphi, but details have not yet been worked out, according to university system spokesman Mike Lurie.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a champion of the bill, said the state's secretary of higher education, the university system's Board of Regents and lawmakers are "all quite pleased" by the final version.

He said the University of Maryland, Baltimore can play a key role in revitalizing the city.

"It's a major linchpin for downtown Baltimore," he said.

Miller said the bill will be part of a package of legislation heading to the governor's desk shortly — so that if Hogan chooses to exercise his veto power, lawmakers will have time for an override vote before they adjourn the 90-day General Assembly session at midnight April 11.

Under state law, the governor has a week to sign or veto any bills presented to him while the legislature is in session.

"I would hope he would sign the bill. I've talked with him about the bill all session long," Miller said. "I know he supports higher education and I know he realizes the value of the strategic partnership."

Ferguson is hopeful.

"It's now done, so the governor will have to make a decision. … I look forward to joining him at the bill signing," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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