University of Maryland Chancellor Donald Langenberg pulled off a deft political and academic move this month when he picked Freeman A. Hrabowski as interim president of the system's Baltimore County campus in Catonsville (UMBC). He is a solid candidate to guide the campus through a period of consolidation with the university's medical and professional schools downtown (UMAB).
Dr. Hrabowski, now UMBC's executive vice president, will assume control following the departure of Michael Hooker, who was recently named president of the University of Massachusetts' five-campus system. His stated mission: to make a UMBC-UMAB merger possible. It won't be easy.
Professionals at UMBC already are worried about being "swallowed up" by the more imposing downtown campus. Dr. Hrabowski will have to assure them that UMBC's liberal arts and science culture won't be lost in the shuffle. So far, he has solid support from campus officials: he was the near-unanimous choice as an interim leader.
More troubling is the continuing effort by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to block a UMAB-UMBC merger because it threatens future funding for Mr. Miller's alma mater at College Park. Dr. Hrabowski could have a tough time educating Mr. Miller to the fact that College Park's real competition won't come from a new University of Maryland-Baltimore but from large research universities in other states vying for a limited pool of federal and private research dollars.
Dr. Hrabowski is an articulate, dynamic and savvy college administrator with broad ties to the state's black academic community. Moreover, he is dedicated to bringing off a merger that will create cost efficiencies as well as a new, specialized university centering on academic pursuits quite different from the focus at College Park.
Even before a formal merger is possible, though, much can be done to foster collaboration and cooperation. Dr. Langenberg and others in the UM system are convinced consolidation is inevitable. But will it happen sooner or later? That could depend on Dr. Hrabowski's leadership skills and his powers of persuasion. It should be an interesting presidency, interim or long-term.