Support grows for combining University of Maryland campuses, but skeptics remain

Legislation to combine the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore is garnering support among some local business leaders who say the plan could stimulate economic development in the city.

But a sticking point has emerged over a provision in the bill that would allow the university system's regents to appoint one president when one of the two campus presidents leaves his job.


Business leaders who support the legislation include Peter Angelos, majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles. "I think it's an encouraging and a very exciting concept, particularly for us in Maryland because we don't do much of getting together, staying together and advancing together," Angelos said Tuesday at a hearing in Annapolis. "Let's pass this bill. Let's get on with it."

Kevin Plank, founder of apparel company Under Armour, did not attend the hearing but sent a letter to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee endorsing what is being called "a strategic partnership" between the universities.


"I believe this Partnership is an opportunity to leverage the best assets of the University System and benefit Baltimore," Plank wrote.

He said combining the universities' research efforts would elevate the university system's national standing, attract additional grant funding and encourage the growth of new businesses in the city.

Academics and students who attended the hearing also voiced support for the plan.

The legislation championed by Baltimore lawmakers and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller would create an entity called The University of Maryland with two campuses that would instantly become one of the highest-ranked in the country in research spending.


Supporters also say it would build on recent collaboration between the two institutions and allow them to create new programs and discoveries by having those in the medical and law fields at UMB work next to those in the engineering, agriculture or computer science fields at College Park.

Critics — including the president of UMB — disagree and say the partnership could dilute the influence of the individual institutions. The university system's regents are divided about the legislation.

Jay Perman, the UMB president, worries that his institution would lose its autonomy and be a less powerful asset to the city and the impoverished neighborhoods nearby.

"There is absolutely no substitute for proximity when trying to make a difference in communities that have been isolated and marginalized for years — communities that are, therefore, slow to trust and slow to heal," he said.

"Our neighbors need to know that they can rely on us, and that we have the power and clout to do what we say we're going to do," Perman said. "Without question, Baltimore needs UMB, and we cannot abandon the city we've promised to help."

University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III said he is concerned that his college's collaboration with UMB could be overshadowed by the partnered schools.

"I believe in collaboration," Hrabowski said in an interview. "It's very clear from the past several years that we have not been included in the collaboration. It has been made very clear we could not be a part of MPower."

MPower is collaboration agreement that emerged five years ago after a measure to merge the two universities was rejected by the University System of Maryland's regents. It is widely regarded as a success. Some 60 faculty members now have joint appointments at the two institutions, up from one in 2011.

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, who supports greater collaboration between the two universities, said in an interview that keeping two presidents would be critical for the city.

"The president of University of Maryland, Baltimore plays a key role in the economic growth and vitality of the city," Fry said. "I don't think you could possibly move forward and have that type of progress with an absentee president."

Angelos is not opposed to the idea of one president overseeing both universities.

"If someday we have a president who is in charge of the entity that is combined of these two great institutions, we will have done a great thing for Baltimore now and in the future," he said at the hearing.

Plank, who started Under Armour shortly after graduating from College Park, did not weigh in on the issue of presidents in his letter but said the overall plan would help businesses by establishing a ventures office in Baltimore to help students and faculty create companies out of their inventions and discoveries.

That ventures office also sparked the interest of Greg Cangialosi, the co-founder of Federal Hill startup incubator Betamore.

"Now more than ever Baltimore's startup community is taking off," he said. "The partnership would be groundbreaking."

Regent Barry Gossett told lawmakers that a majority of the board, which oversees 12 of the state's public universities, including College Park and UMB, did not support a full merger with one president.

Gossett and Robert Caret, the system chancellor, asked lawmakers to allow the board of regents to sort out issues that could arise and clarify such things as ensuring that UMB can continue to work with the connected hospital system and with UMBC.

Caret said the university system supports the concept outlined in the legislation.

"A more expansive and impactful version of MPower is a positive idea with significant potential. But ... there are serious concerns regarding this legislation as currently drafted that need to be addressed."

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