Despite a stinging defeat in the State House, higher education officials say they will keep working to merge two Baltimore-area schools into one major university.
The proposal, which would merge the University of Maryland's Baltimore County and downtown Baltimore campuses, is supported by both schools but died in the legislature this year.
The concrete reasons for a merger are a little hard to pin down. Proponents talk about the combined venture creating "synergy" and spurring high-tech research and economic development.
Critics say the merger is simply a good old-fashioned political power play, pitting the Baltimore area against the Washington suburbs, where some officials fear that a super-college in Baltimore would hurt College Park, the state's flagship campus.
Despite that opposition, merger forces seem to be in the majority.
"My reading is that there are 3 million people for it and one person against it," said Errol L. Reese, UMAB president.
The one person is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who has vowed to kill any merger for years to come. Mr. Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, didn't even allow the proposed merger bill to come to a vote in a Senate committee this year, after it easily cleared the House of Delegates.
Mr. Miller, who graduated from College Park and is its staunchest defender in Annapolis, won't discuss the issue.
"I don't have any comments about it," he said. But he has told friends privately that a combined Baltimore school less than 25 miles north of College Park would steal tight state funds from his alma mater. He has also said that the issue is being driven by Baltimore business interests with few statewide considerations.
While the merger idea percolates for another year, both Baltimore schools are thinking big.
UMBC has developed a master plan that calls for increasing enrollment from 10,000 to 16,000 in 20 years, reducing the faculty-to-student ratio, and doubling its academic space. The project would cost more than $244 million over 20 years and would transform the campus.
At UMAB, Dr. Reese wants to draw the national spotlight on the school's collection of professional and graduate schools. The law and medical schools, for example, are well-known in those professions. As a complete university, however, UMAB has no clear identity, Dr. Reese said.
"The governor has chastised me," Dr. Reese said. "The legislature haschastised me. My wife has chastised me. People say, 'People don't know the great things you're doing there.' "
The school also plans a major expansion and renovation of UMAB's buildings, including nearly $200 million in construction over five years.
Long-range plans for the two Baltimore campuses call for a combined enrollment of 21,000, which begins to rival College Park's total of about 34,000.
The most tangible effect of a merger would simply be a new name for the combined facility: University of Maryland-Baltimore, say some legislators.
"They can do everything but change the name without us," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a key legislator in Annapolis on higher education issues.
UMAB and UMBC officials plan to develop more cross-campus projects and write a thorough "mission statement" for the combined university before they ask for legislative approval again next year.
"We can move forward with some things on our own. That makes our case stronger," said Shaila R. Aery, state secretary of higher education and a strong booster of merging the campuses.
"Some bills," she added, "take more than one year to pass."