The presidents of two Baltimore universities said yesterday that their students, their faculty and the Baltimore economy could benefit from a merger, and it should be done.
Only a few years ago, the very mention of merging the University of Maryland at Baltimore and the Catonsville-based University of Maryland Baltimore County gave numerous politicians and educators heartburn. Yesterday, the presidents made the idea sound heartwarming.
A previous attempt to combine the campuses died in the summer of 1989 when a newly recruited UMAB president, Harvard doctor Augustus White, quit in protest over secret merger negotiations. The controversy also led to the resignation of the merger plan's architect, Board of Regents Chairman Peter O'Malley.
What has happened since then to bring the two campus presidents to endorse the notion?
The answer is: a lot. There are new leaders more disposed to a merger at the University of Maryland's professional schools in Baltimore. There is a new secretary of higher education who publicly urged the UM regents to reconsider the issue. And there is a state budget crisis that makes both schools see that a merger, not money, may be the way to instant prestige.
Combining UMAB and UMBC wouldn't save any money. But it could enhance the recognition and stature of the resulting institution, the presidents said.
The combined resources of the new campus would instantly qualify it as a major research university in national rankings, making it more attractive to those who give out research money. And a single administration would eliminate the red tape that now haunts graduate students who try to take courses on both campuses and faculty members who collaborate on research projects.
The potential for creative collaboration is the major reason for unification, according to a report recommending the merger by a 17-mem- ber task force of faculty, staff and students from both schools. The panel studied the issue at the behest of Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg and the regents.
The presidents, Errol Reese of UMAB and Michael K. Hooker of UMBC, said the new entity would be a medium-size campus specializing in science and technology, areas of importance to Baltimore as the economy shifts to goods and services.
"We agreed higher education should take a major leadership role in bringing about the transformation of the economy," said Dr. Hooker.
Yesterday's report shied away from questions about how the merger would work, limiting itself to the question of whether it should be done at all. If a merger is approved by the regents, the governor and General Assembly, the task force would reconvene to work out hundreds of details such as faculty job policies and crafting a single administration to oversee the city campus and its counterpart 10 miles away.
The report suggested a new name -- the University of Maryland Baltimore -- and recommended that funds earned by each department or school be retained by that school and not pooled throughout the university -- a key concern of the medical school, which generates nearly all of UMAB's annual research income.
According to Dr. Hooker, the new entity would have about the same budget as the state university system flagship University of Maryland at College Park, would award roughly two-thirds the number of degrees and would bring in fewer research dollars -- $110 million annually.
However, the presidents took pains to stress their support for the continued enhancement of College Park and said that the Baltimore campus would differ both in its focus and scope. According to the report, it would build on interdisciplinary programs in the life and health sciences, law, public policy, human services, information technology, engineering and the arts and sciences.
In the two campuses, Dr. Hooker said, "We have, in effect, a major research university, but it is not widely known in the nation or abroad." He said the visibility and stature of a university is sometimes connected to its size.
Location: downtown Baltimore
President: Errol L. Reese
Graduate/professional students: 3,873
Full-time faculty: 1,044
Budget: $288.6 million
Contract/grant revenue: $99.1 million
Mission: UMAB enrolls students in the professional fields of law, medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy and social work. It is home to the University of Maryland Medical System, which includes University Medical Center, the Maryland Shock Trauma Center and UM Cancer Center.
President: Michael Hooker
Graduate students: 1,358
Full-time faculty: 388
Budget: $100.9 million
Contract/grant revenue: $15.1 million
Mission: This campus has concentrated on building up programs in biology, biotechnology and engineering in recent years.