High stakes in Miller's UM-UMB poker game

There's a reason why UM and UMB are separate.

Its Miller Time in Annapolis again since Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's perennial push for a merger of the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Maryland Baltimore is front and center in the legislative agenda, along with happy talk about what makes the public universities great in the metric games and promises of economic and social spinoffs ("What about UMBC?" March 7).

Lest we forget, UM and UMB along with the University of Maryland Medical System were one unhappy family for decades. UMMS for many reasons including changes in health care regulation and procurement tie-ups went its own way under Al Farmer, and UMMS has done very well as a health care provider and research institution. To date no one has suggested they incorporate back into the state higher education system, as size alone does not ensure excellence over time in research, teaching, and management efficiencies.

When then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer established the higher education commission which lead to the formation of the University System of Maryland for all public institutions but excepting for political reasons Morgan State and St. Mary's (a whole other topic for public policy, particularly in light of a lower federal court ruling) the imbalance of power and resources for the non UM and UMB institutions was acute. Thankfully since the USM has come onto the playing field, that has been increasingly addressed. Though not perfect, the situation is much improved in a way that would not have occurred under the old split systems. This peace with prosperity will be threatened by a mega-merger. As for the idea of co-presidents, many a corporation has failed with co-heads. Collaboration programming is proving a benefit and should be the mainstay of the effort for another decade to test the effort and further flush out the problems of cultural differences within the institutions and geographic areas.

A snap of the legislative pen and poof to the existing organization differences seems a very naive and dangerous position to be taken by UM President Wallace Loh in particular. It has taken the USM decades to prove itself an efficient producer of resources for the many hands in the public higher education trough. As a past member of the USM Board of Regents who chaired its Finance Committee, a past adjunct associate professor at one of the member institutions, and a UM undergrad and graduate school alumnus, I can say the table game being played by Mr. Miller has high stakes for all. It has been studied and found wanting in cost effectiveness. The current focus on collaboration strategy is much preferred until proven a best practice or in need of adaptation, but this should wait until Mr. Miller has left the Senate.

Ed Crawford, Baltimore

The writer is a former member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.

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