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University of Maryland, Baltimore President Dr. Jay Perman plans to continue his quest to provide more college opportunities for more students in his new job as chancellor of the University System of Maryland.
University of Maryland, Baltimore President Dr. Jay Perman plans to continue his quest to provide more college opportunities for more students in his new job as chancellor of the University System of Maryland. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Dr. Jay Perman doesn’t want Maryland universities to only start thinking about their students once they’ve stepped onto campus.

At the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where Perman serves as president, he helped launch the UMB CURE Scholars program. Roughly two dozen West Baltimore kids join the program each year, gaining access to mentorship and a path toward a biomedical career.

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Perman, 73, was named Thursday as chancellor of the University System of Maryland, which encompasses most public universities in the state. When he steps into the new role, he wants to lead more institutions in establishing the same kinds of pipelines as at UMB.

“We have to do our part rather than simply being the receiver to which everything flows,” Perman said in an interview Friday. “We have to do our part so we have more kids ready to do college work.”

Perman, a pediatric gastroenterologist who spent nearly a decade at UMB’s helm, says his life’s work is to ensure every person who wants a college education can access it, regardless of their background. It’s a belief forged by his own history: Scholarships enabled him to attend medical school.

“I stood on people’s shoulders,” he said. “I’ve always felt a sense of obligation to make sure others are afforded the same opportunities granted to me.”

Perman will take over next summer, replacing Robert L. Caret, who did not seek another five-year contract. He inherits a system under intense scrutiny after a series of higher education scandals rocked public trust.

But Perman believes he can help restore pride to the state’s institutions, tapping into his reputation as a collaborator and listener.

“Dr. Perman is a stabilizing force, and I look forward to working closely with him to maintain college affordability and improve partnerships and programming to prepare our students for this global economy,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said in a statement.

He knows the higher education ecosystem is rapidly evolving. What was once considered the traditional student — someone between the ages of 18 and 22 who heads to college right after high school — is becoming far less typical, he says. Perman wants to strengthen options for people who may already be in the workforce, who have families or who started at community college.

“We have to think about the students who need to be educated in the evening, on the weekend, online,” he said.

In recent years, some university officials have felt overshadowed by the state flagship. The University of Maryland, College Park has been at the center of most of the bruising scandals, most notably the death of a 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair and ensuing reports of a troubled culture within the athletic department.

While at UMB, Perman fostered partnerships with many of the other state institutions and, as chancellor, he said he plans to “continue where I left off in that regard.”

“The other institutions need to see the chancellor on their campus, and that’s an easy task for me, one I will relish,” he said.

As part of a series of shakeups over the last year within the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, each member was appointed a campus liaison for a specific school so that members of each institution can feel they have a go-to ear.

The sense of campuses feeling overlooked “is an issue,” Perman said. “and we have to make sure each institution, which has its own unique qualities and needs, feels like it’s being heard.”

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As chancellor, Perman will have considerable input over who replaces University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, as well as filling the top vacancy at Coppin State. Loh originally stepped down last year after the football crisis, but then decided to remain until retirement in June 2020.

Perman also says a politically divisive idea that was recently proposed by University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke is worth studying.

The former Baltimore mayor has suggested three of the city’s institutions of higher education be restructured in a style similar to the City University of New York. The plan would bring together the University of Baltimore, Baltimore City Community College and Coppin State University to become what Schmoke dubbed the City University of Baltimore.

“We ought to take a good look at what President Schmoke has raised," he said, “and see if it could result in a better outcome for students, while still preserving the uniqueness and integrity of every institution."

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