A plan to merge two Baltimore-area universities has been endorsed by a committee of the University of Maryland System Board of Regents, although the proposal is short on details.
The committee decided yesterday to recommend merging the University of Maryland at Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a short car trip away in Catonsville.
The proposal now goes to the full board, which is expected to consider it next Tuesday.
The merger proposal calls for a midsized campus specializing in life sciences, health sciences and technology, fields deemed to be important to Baltimore's economy.
Four committee members cautioned that the combined school should not duplicate the primary functions of other degree-granting institutions in metropolitan Baltimore and the 11-member University of Maryland System.
Educators should come up with a written "mission statement" that describes the purpose and function of the combined university by March 1, the panel said.
Some presidents and faculty from other Maryland universities fear that the combined school could grow unchecked and drain money from their institutions. Their worries have been heightened by the state's budget crisis, which led to cuts in higher education funds this year.
In particular, some worry that the merger "would be diverting whatever resources we still have" from the system's flagship, University of Maryland at College Park, Committee Chairman Henry R. Lord said. "Do not starve academic programs elsewhere in the state," he said in summarizing some university presidents' concerns.
System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said that although the new school's focus should be science and technology, other types of programs cannot be ruled out. The new university should offer doctoral programs in the humanities, such as English or history, even if other state universities offer somewhat similar programs, he said.
Without some duplication, the combined school would be mediocre, he said.
"Do you really think anybody deserves a mediocre education? . . . you should not try to handcuff human minds. That's the opposite of what universities are about," he said.
The merger is not expected to save any money. Langenberg said any savings that might come from the merger probably would be small.
One committee member, however, said he fears the opposite will occur. "I think it will cost money," Regent Albert N. Whiting said.
The merger could make the combined school more prestigious, an important accomplishment in academia. The new school could attract more research money because it would qualify as a major research university in national rankings, proponents say.