The University of Maryland System Board of Regents yesterday approved in principle the idea of joining two Baltimore campuses into a research university that would specialize largely in the health and life sciences.
The governing board's approval was unanimous. But it came on the condition that a special task force examining the merger issue define a role for the new campus that is clearly distinct from the state's flagship university campus at College Park and does not encroach upon the missions of other Baltimore area universities.
"I think we've come a long way. We have a long way to go. But headed in the right direction," said George V. McGowan, ** chairman of the university system's governing board.
The resolution passed yesterday comes six months after a task force of faculty from the University of Maryland at Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County met to draft a plan to combine their professional and undergraduate academic programs.
The unification of the largely graduate programs now offered at the downtown Baltimore campus with undergraduate and growing doctoral programs at UMBC is intended to bolster the identity of the University of Maryland in the city and to pave the way for what its advocates hope will be a more prestigious university.
The combined resources of the new campus would instantly classify it as a major research university. It would have about 15,000 students, less than half the number College Park has, and about two-thirds the number of faculty.
The new campus, to be called the University of Maryland Baltimore, would focus on the health sciences, the life sciences, technology, law and public policy.
The campuses already share a graduate school that allows doctoral candidates to take advantage of medical and science faculty on both campuses.
College Park, in contrast, offers a much larger and broader array of undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
In a series of public hearings on the proposal, the presidents and some faculty at three other state campuses raised concerns that the new campus described in the proposed draft appeared similar to, if smaller than, College Park.
Several also questioned how the state can support a second major research university at a time when it cannot fund its main campus adequately.
In addition, the presidents of the University of Baltimore and Towson State University have warned that the new campus needs to be part of an overall plan for higher education in the region.
College Park President William E. Kirwan expressed satisfaction yesterday that the regents' marching orders would avert misinterpretation of the new campus's role and prevent its overlap with College Park.
The merger requires approval by the General Assembly and governor. If approved in the spring legislative session, it would take effect in July. Issues affecting students -- such as how graduate students can apply for programs bridging both campuses -- will not be resolved before the fall of 1993.