Improving UMD improves university system

Op-ed: We cannot hold down UMD because of unsubstantiated fears of imbalance in the university system.

Over the past month, a few observers have weighed in to voice their opposition to the proposed strategic partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. As well-intentioned as the opposition may be, their arguments seem to be largely based on unfounded fears of change rather than doing what's best for students, institutions and ultimately, the citizens of Maryland.

Opponents of this legislation argue that it is not necessary; it just serves an already great school in becoming marginally better. Such thinking is not just short sighted, it is plain wrong. The fact is, Maryland is one of the only states in the nation that does not tie its state flagship institution with its medical school, law school and host of other professional programs. This separation simply does not make any sense and actively harms both institutions and their students. Specifically, it prevents UMCP and UMB from offering special programs such as a pre-medical track, a six-year pharmacy degree, or dual B.A./J.D. tracks that so many other public institutions offer; it severely hurts their competitiveness when it comes to attracting lucrative research grants, and it prevents the University of Maryland from being considered at the same level as many of its peer institutions.

If we truly want to offer our citizens the best possible public education, more collaboration is a necessity. As even detractors of the strategic partnership have pointed out, the MPower initiative has already shown just how effective even the smallest amount of collaboration between these two schools can be. Why then, when we have the opportunity to expand an already successful collaboration to a full fledged partnership, would we turn it down?

A common refrain from those opposed to a strategic partnership is that any potential benefits of the proposal come at the risk of harming the city of Baltimore. Baltimore certainly deserves as much focus, care and attention that we can afford to give it. Economic growth and development in Baltimore City are and ought to be among our state's foremost goals, and the strategic partnership fits in with those goals perfectly. Any person who claims otherwise has probably not read the bill. As part of the legislation, the University System of Maryland headquarters will relocate to Baltimore, making the city the center of higher education in the state. The bill creates a Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures in the city designed to bring new businesses and technology to Baltimore. If all goes well, this legislation could mean millions of dollars in funding and development for new businesses, more jobs and significantly better education for the city. Proposals like this are exactly what Baltimore needs to grow and flourish. Blocking this proposal would be a disservice to the city's future.

Finally, many have wisely brought up concerns regarding the impact the strategic partnership would have on the other colleges across the University System of Maryland. The thought of UMCP getting better somehow unbalancing the system or destroying the smaller schools, however, is misguided. It has been shown across the country that the fortunes of a flagship are positively tied to the fortunes of the university system as a whole. In other systems such as the University System of California or the University System of North Carolina, when the flagship has gained more prominence, the system as a whole receives more attention and the other system institutions rise in prominence as well. The rising tide indeed raises all ships. As the quality of students at UMCP increases, so too will the quality of students across the system.

We cannot and should not hold down one school from getting better simply because there are unsubstantiated fears of imbalance or harm. Higher education in Maryland cannot thrive with that kind of obstruction and hesitation. The University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act is a good bill that has the potential to completely transform the quality of higher education in Maryland, and it ought to pass.

Patrick Ronk is student body president at the University of Maryland, College Park. His email is pronk@terpmail.umd.edu.

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