A new UMB?

November 06, 1991

Too often a "merger" in higher education is a euphemism for a thinly veiled takeover of a weak partner (such as Baltimore's Mount St. Agnes College) by a strong one (Loyola College), and too often the "merger" promises what it will never deliver -- such as great economies. Moreover, the extreme difficulties of combining institutions of different -- sometimes strikingly different -- traditions and outlooks are almost always overlooked.

In 1989, the last time a merger of the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Maryland at Baltimore was proposed as part of a three-way deal also involving the University of Baltimore, we thought it would never fly. It was a one-ring circus, with UM Regents Chairman Peter O'Malley as ringmaster. It cost O'Malley his post, and it cost UMAB the services of Harvard surgeon and professor Augustus White, who withdrew after his appointment as president had been announced.

But now many things have changed. Most of the higher education bigwigs have signed on to a two-way joining of UMAB and UMBC. Michael Hooker, the UMBC president whose perceived ambition to head the combined unit might have thrown up a roadblock, is actively seeking a presidency elsewhere and says he would not be a candidate to head the new "University of Maryland Baltimore." And promoters of merger wisely are not claiming it will save the state millions of dollars.

Most important, the merger makes increasingly good sense academically. UMBC contributes strengths in computer and information sciences, engineering, biotechnology, chemistry and such exotic studies as photonics and robotics. UMAB, of course, is a leading center of professional and graduate study (the latter already merged with UMBC) with heavy emphasis on the life sciences through its medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy schools.

Thus, a UMBC-UMAB merger fits into the vision of the Greater Baltimore Committee's recent report, "Baltimore: Where Science Comes to Life," which declares that "the life sciences clearly are already Baltimore's strongest foothold in the future and the most promising new economic engine for future job growth."

UMAB, established in 1807, is the great-granddaddy of the UM system. UMBC, at 25, is its baby. Merger is in the genes.

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