I have a great deal of respect for University of Baltimore (UB) President Kurt Schmoke. He is a native Baltimorean and has deep roots in our city. By comparison, I am a newcomer, having only been here for nine years. I read a lot to understand our city’s rich history, and I try to remain informed about what drives its progression.

Recently, former Mayor Schmoke proposed a merger of several public higher education institutions. I agree with that line of thinking — just not with the institutions he suggested. The only merger of higher education institutions in the Baltimore area that makes immediate and sustainable sense is the merger of UB into Morgan State University, where I serve as president — especially since the state designated Morgan its “Preeminent Public Urban Research University” three years ago. In December, the Carnegie Commission elevated Morgan’s research classification to “very high research,” putting us in the same category as UMBC, so a unification with UB would present an opportunity to create an attractive, highly-competitive and comprehensive university located in Maryland’s largest city. The possibilities would be endless.

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Kurt Schmoke: creating a ‘City University for Baltimore’

Kurt Schmoke: The time has come to create a new governance structure involving the University of Baltimore (UB), Coppin State University and Baltimore City Community College (BCCC). The resulting entity would become the City University of Baltimore.

If UB merged into Morgan and became Morgan’s downtown campus, our combined enrollment would swell to nearly 15,000 students, making it the third largest public university in the state, and Maryland’s most diverse campus. Such a move would overnight make Morgan a tremendous force to be reckoned with — an institution poised to comprehensively and in a multidisciplinary fashion tackle many of the intractable challenges facing our city, and it would even create a pathway for more African Americans to attend law school. It would be the most innovative, imaginative and relevant public urban research university in the nation today. Morgan would become to Baltimore what Temple is to Philadelphia or Georgia State is to Atlanta. How such a merger has not already occurred is baffling, but history may provide more context.

On Friday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged graduates at Morgan State University to "change the rules." (Catherine Rentz / Baltimore Sun video)

When it comes to higher education in Maryland, Morgan historically has received the short end of the stick, often being left out of opportunities to advance. In the 1960s, when the state considered what to do with its state teachers colleges to help address its growing demand for higher education, there were only two public institutions — UMD College Park and Morgan State — that were considered comprehensive in nature, offering a full menu of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Of the two, only Morgan was located in the city. Given this reality, the logical thing to do at this time would have been to expand the foundation that was already in place at Morgan, but public officials and members of the business community argued against that strategy and instead wanted the University of Maryland to build another campus in Baltimore city, encroaching into an area that Morgan already served.

At the time of this intense debate, Dr. Martin Jenkins, then president of Morgan , argued that Morgan should become Maryland’s multi-ethnic and multiracial institution with an even fuller array of undergraduate and graduate programs. But the state ignored such well-reasoned objections and unwisely invested resources into building a new campus in Baltimore County: UMBC. Just think of where Morgan and the City of Baltimore would be today if those investments, billions of dollars, had not been made.

Kurt Schmoke wants to create a ‘City University of Baltimore.’ Can it be done?

University of Baltimore president Kurt Schmoke is proposing three of the city’s institutions of higher education be restructured in a style similar to the City University of New York, an idea he acknowledges is politically divisive but believes could strengthen the schools and benefit students.

In the 1970s, the state missed out on another key opportunity to enhance Morgan and expand upon its mission as a public research university. The then-private University of Baltimore was struggling mightily to sustain itself and was ripe for takeover, and the state decided to purchase it. But instead of attaching it to Morgan — its already existing public research university in Baltimore — the state made the campus public and set it up to be a competitor to Morgan, a move that eludes logic.

If the state would have done then what it can still do today, officially merging UB into Morgan, the overall benefits would be gigantic. A merged comprehensive research university would create:

  • Convenient campus locations serving a larger swath of Baltimore City residents;
  • A combined enrollment that would enable economies of scale;
  • A better full-time/part-time balance of students;
  • A full complement of programs that would create more learning opportunities and produce more graduates
  • And incredible costs savings for the state.

To many, the state’s approach to developing higher education in the Baltimore area has seemed unplanned and highly political, but all of that could change with one strategic move. The approach offered by President Schmoke of simply merging a number of campuses that are experiencing enrollment challenges but are not mission related, might make sense for Baltimore City Community College and Coppin State to consider. But if the state really wants to see Morgan continue to develop as Maryland’s “Preeminent Public Urban Research University,” it needs to correct the mistakes of the past and do the right thing this time: Merge UB into Morgan.

David Wilson is president of Morgan State University in Baltimore. His email address is david.wilson@morgan.edu.

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