How successful has 'Mpower' really been?

To answer that question we need better data than advocates have offered.

As a professor involved in researching health policies I find former University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan's claims for the success of "Mpower" to be cringe-worthy ("UMB-College Park partnership will make Maryland stronger," March 3).

Mr. Kirwan cites the increase in "joint awards" under the program as having "jumped from $2.9 million in 2012 to over $26 million in 2015."

But how much of these "joint awards" funds were actually just a relabeling of grants involving collaboration between the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County faculty that would have occurred anyway, with or without the "Mpower" program?

And how much of that growth might actually have been the result of existing inter-campus programs, which began years before "Mpower" and which provided seed money for collaborative research start-ups by faculty across different UM system campuses?

Moreover, if you use a similarly simple-minded before-after comparison of overall UMB and UMCP research and development funding to see the wider impact of "Mpower," the most recently available National Science Foundation data show a decline in overall funds. Does this imply that "Mpower" is a failure? Of course not.

In short, if you want to do a serious job of assessing the impact of "Mpower," you need a serious evaluation, not a casual before-after comparison of handy bits and pieces of data.

Of course, if "Mpower" has done anything positive the more important question may be why it has done so.

My more than four decades of faculty service at research universities (Hopkins and UMBC) suggests that the most efficient way to increase collaboration by faculty across campuses is to expand inter-campus seed-grant research funding programs and spend as little as possible on new letter-heads, part-time office space for joint appointment faculty and joint websites.

Hopefully, if the university regents and the legislature spend a bit more time doing a serious evaluation of "Mpower," we will have better evidence on which to base answers to these questions.

David Salkever, Baltimore

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
36°