UMB students 'blindsided' by merger proposal

Op-ed: UMB students say they were blindsided by proposed merger with UMD.

Proponents of legislation that would merge the University of Maryland, College Park, with the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where I'm a graduate student, say that UMB's student voice will still be heard, that our goals will still be realized and our campus will still be ours. However, in constructing Senate Bill 1052, the sponsors made absolutely no attempt to seek UMB student opinions on this merger. In fact, we were effectively blindsided by its proposal in the Maryland state Senate last month. As a leader in UMB's graduate student government and a proud alumna of the University of Maryland, College Park, I fully support enhancing the already successful collaboration between our institutions, yet the coercive nature of this bill is alarming to both the UMB community and the greater Baltimore community.

UMB's autonomy will undoubtedly diminish if we merge with UM, whether or not we retain our own president. I can say this with confidence because UMB already receives less attention in this debate. During the 90-minute hearing on the issue on the senate floor, UMB was represented by President Jay Perman in a speech lasting a meager five minutes. In the local media, representatives from UM are labeled "supporters" while concerned parties from UMB are "skeptics." It's obvious that manipulating UM's national ranking is taking sole priority in this bill while the tangible consequences faced by UMB and other University System of Maryland institutions are being overlooked.

President Perman's commitment to shared governance at UMB is paramount to its success as a university. Our faculty, staff and student senates are extremely active in evaluating the effectiveness of the university and formulating strategic plans to better our campus community. Additionally, we prioritize the needs of our neighbors in West Baltimore and facilitate productive communal relationships, such as the UniverCity Partnership, that can only persist under local leadership. It's true that SB1052 offers some benefits to UMB including a new Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Development, a Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures and an improved transportation system between the universities, but it's worth noting that these enhancements could easily be implemented without merging the two schools. In fact, the foundation for these partnerships is already in place under the MPowering the State program, and there are many existing precedents for the proposed resource sharing. If this bill passes, UMB will see the mere growth of pre-existing perks for the price of ownership by UMD. That is a price many of us at UMB refuse to pay.

UMB, the founding campus of the University System of Maryland, has always prided itself on being unique from the other 11 schools in the system. Our university houses six professional schools and a graduate school, meaning student enrollment is mostly comprised of career-minded scholars in their mid-to-late 20s and 30s. To put it simply, the atmosphere is more mature here, and that is reflected in our university's goals, in our student-funded programs, and in the way we interact with our professors, deans and administrators. In gathering input for this piece, students repeatedly insisted that these tenets critically influenced their decision to enroll at UMB, and current students believe that under a combined leadership, 37,000 undergraduates would severely dilute the distinct values of our 6,000 professional students.

If we are going to merge we should do so organically, with input from both universities. Furthermore, we believe that the state legislature should allow the Maryland Board of Regents (17 experts appointed to govern the USM institutions) to determine the feasibility, consequences and terms of a potential merger over their requested period of one year. We must also consider the negative impact on the other USM institutions. For example, UMB enjoys a flourishing graduate research partnership with the University of Maryland Baltimore County and maintains a highly effective joint faculty senate. If our ranking were to skyrocket as the bill promises, there would no longer be enough incentive for UMB to partner with the now-marginalized universities. Such a power shift could significantly upset the already tenuous balance between institutions within the University System of Maryland.

If this bill passes, UM and UMB will be forcibly combined on July 1. How can this merger be termed a "partnership" if it is so abruptly thrust upon us? As a university and a community, we are urging Maryland House legislators to consider the severe consequences of forcing UMB into this relationship and to join our central and student leadership in rejecting this University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act.

Amber Mueller is president of the Graduate Student Association at the University of Maryland Baltimore; her email is umb.gsa.president@gmail.com.

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