Support is growing for combining University of Maryland campuses in downtown Baltimore and Catonsville. The rationale is so compelling that a two-campus task force unanimously favors creating the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB) as a major research and academic center.
Note the italicized word. Unanimously. That couldn't have happened several years ago, when mention of the dreaded "M" word provoked protests from powers on the downtown campus (UMAB) so potent the board of regents dropped UMAB from its consolidation plans. Instead, the regents pursued a UMBC-University of Baltimore combine. That effort also failed, leaving the regents wary of further merger talk.
But consolidating higher education makes so much sense the "M" word was bound to re-enter UM's academic vocabulary. Finally, Shaila Aery, the state's higher education secretary, took the lead in pressing for renewed discussions. A UMBC-UMAB combination was endorsed by the Maryland Higher Education Commission this summer. And now, the two presidents and key campus leaders have jumped on the bandwagon.
Why merge these distinctive campuses? Because, as UMBC's Michael Hooker and UMAB's Errol Reese noted, "The unified institution would be larger than the sum of its parts." Exciting research opportunities would open up, thanks to "creative collaboration among the professions, the arts and humanities, the social and physical sciences and engineering." UMAB's science-oriented professional schools would have access to UMBC's engineering, computer science and biotechnology departments. The two campuses would act as a magnet to attract private and government investment in the life sciences to Baltimore.
The potential is enormous. By removing existing administrative barriers, cooperation between the campuses could flourish, creating a nationally recognized research university. It would be a forward-looking university. As the two presidents noted, "the most effective universities [in the 21st century] will be those with an interdisciplinary orientation built upon a variety of professions, disciplines and programs." That describes the new UMB.
Significant barriers remain. Operational problems have to be worked out. The board of regents must endorse the plan. Parochial educators at UM's College Park campus have to be mollified. And state legislators must give their stamp of approval. Even then, the two presidents want to spend another year ironing out details.
We have long championed consolidation of public higher-education in Baltimore. The new UMB will give us a first-rate research center with a tightly focused academic emphasis tied to the city's thrust for economic development in the sciences. It will attract top-caliber professors, researchers and the best of local students. It is a proposal that warrants strong support from business, civic and political leaders throughout the region.