Plan to merge UMBC, UMAB meets opposition in Assembly Competition with College Park feared.

February 28, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- A Schaefer administration proposal to merge the University of Maryland's Baltimore City and Baltimore County campuses is in trouble in the General Assembly, where some lawmakers are worried that the new superschool could compete with College Park.

The No. 1 opponent of the merger is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, a graduate of the university's College Park campus and one of its biggest boosters.

He refuses to talk about the merger now, but others involved in the issue say Mr. Miller has told them the merger is dead.

"A couple weeks ago, he told me, 'Not this year, not next year, not ever,' " said state Higher Education Secretary Shaila R. Aery. "He was trying to make a point. He is not interested in this bill until the state can honor its previous commitment to College Park."

The state reorganized its higher education structure in 1988 and Mr. Miller and others made sure the law specified College Park as the state's "flagship" campus.

But the state's budget crunch has meant a drop in funding for College Park, resulting in major cutbacks and a loss of the momentum that began with reorganization, according to campus officials.

Merging the two Baltimore area campuses, which are only a few miles apart, would create a major university, with full undergraduate and professional schools.

It would not compete with College Park as a full-scale research institution but could develop a niche in the life sciences and medicine, proponents say.

Mr. Miller's opposition is "just fantasy parochialism that the bill will hurt College Park," said one supporter of the legislation.

The merger has the strong support of the Baltimore business community, which sees Baltimore becoming a leading center for life-sciences research and development.

UMAB includes the state's medical, dental and law schools, as well as schools of nursing, pharmacy and social work. The 25-year-old UMBC campus has a full undergraduate program and offers doctorates in a limited number of disciplines.

The combined Baltimore campus would have about 15,000 students, less than half of College Park's enrollment of 35,000.

"It would be more than dwarfed by College Park," said David S. Iannucci, the chief legislative officer for Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "There should be no threat between the two campuses."

The merger proposal has solid support in the House committee that is considering the bill and appears to have a good chance of going from the House to the Senate. Even with that legislative momentum, Mr. Miller presumably can control its fate in the Senate.

Meanwhile, university officials are hurrying to finish a "mission statement" for the combined university to appease some legislators who are skeptical about the merger.

"I support a life-sciences focus. But I want to see the statement first," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and a key legislator on higher education issues. "Otherwise, you have College Park feeling threatened, you have Towson State feeling threatened, and you have Morgan State feeling threatened.

"You're going to create a behemoth," Ms. Hoffman added. "But if it's focused, you'll have near-zero opposition."

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