A Canary Sings of the Future of Education

November 28, 1990|By Donald N. Langenberg

THOSE OF YOU who have seen the October issue of Baltimore magazine and its list of the city's 50 most powerful people will know me as a ''600-pound canary'' whose prospects for appearing on a future version of that list depend on what kind of song he sings. It's still too early to give you a complete rendition of my song, but I'd like to try out a few phrases. I am going out on a limb a bit with some personal ideas about the University of Maryland system's proper role in greater Baltimore.

Fortunately for us, this nation in 1862 created just what we need today -- the land-grant institution. To the higher-education missions of teaching and research, this creation added another dimension: the direct communication of knowledge in immediately useful forms to society. This function is commonly called public service.

This new mission of public service gave birth to the ''land-grant ,, philosophy and spirit,'' powerful generic tools, applicable to all of higher education. They can work just as well in elementary schools, hospitals, city-planning offices, banks, neighborhood organizations, and art museums as they do on farms and in factories. With those tools already in hand, we need only adapt them to new uses.

How do we do this? We must change academic culture and people's habits. We must engage further the University of Maryland institutions with their many clienteles, directly and in new ways. And it'll require new efforts, new behavior and cultural changes on the part of our clienteles.

Let me offer some suggestions that might be part of our common future here in greater Baltimore, ideas that respond, in part, to six of the concerns members of the Greater Baltimore Committee have expressed to me.

First, the committee has said quite correctly that we must focus our attention on building the University of Maryland Baltimore County up and out, particularly in engineering. I agree that we should establish at that institution a complete engineering school. But I think we should aim for something even more ambitious, a type of institution the University of Maryland system presently lacks. I envision UMBC evolving into a medium-sized, comprehensive institute of technology along the lines of a Georgia Tech or an MIT, something we might call the University of Maryland Institute of Technology.

Second, the GBC has also correctly noted that there is a critical need for continuing education to help Baltimore's work force maintain its professional and competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. I agree whole-heartedly. We are making some progress on that front right now. In a few weeks we will receive bids on locations for our downtown center for continuing education. If all goes well, we will begin offering professional development programs there next spring.

That center has almost unlimited possibilities. Wouldn't it be grand, for example, if we were to develop at that center the nation's premier professional development programs in international finance and marketing, or in health-care administration, drawing on the intellectual resources of many of our system's institutions? Such programs could be powerful magnets for attracting regional corporate headquarters to greater Baltimore.

Third, there is absolutely no question but that we must bring the vast resources of our university system to bear on the issue of preparing youth in grades K-12 for lives as productive, fulfilled adults in the Baltimore region. The key role here will be played by our new Center for Excellence in Urban Education, which is just getting started at Coppin State College. We are in the process of identifying a dynamic director who can seize this opportunity and make the center a model for educational technology transfer. The center will draw on the resources and expertise of all our constituent institutions.

Fourth, the transfer of technologies from higher education to the marketplace is, indeed, an important function of the University of Maryland system. We have made a good start with efforts such as our Technology Extension Service and our joint technology transfer program at the University of Maryland at Baltimore and at UMBC, but that's not good enough. The Greater Baltimore Committee's studies show that the University of Maryland College Park and, more so, UMAB and UMBC lag behind leaders like MIT and Stanford in the proportion of licensed inventions per research dollar expended. We must, and we will, do a better job of converting our research into practical applications, and ultimately into licensed technologies.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.