UM Merger in Jeopardy

March 18, 1992

How can a bill that passed the House of Delegates last week by a sweeping 94-17 margin now face bleak prospects in the state Senate -- a bill that has widespread backing from educators, business and civic leaders and top state and local government officials? The answer is that one powerful senator has vowed to kill the bill regardless of its merits. And that one legislator happens to be president of the Senate.

Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller of Prince George's County wants nothing to pass that might detract from his alma mater, the University of Maryland College Park. Giving the state a better higher education system pales next to Mr. Miller's desire to see College Park dominant in all aspects of academic and athletic pursuits. And if that means killing the planned merger of two UM campuses in the Baltimore area, so be it.

The fact that this consolidation holds exciting possibilities for academic and economic development in the Baltimore region doesn't concern Mr. Miller. The fact that this merger might actually save taxpayers money as activities are combined and the bureaucracy streamlined also doesn't seem worthy of his attention. He is obsessed with the false notion that his alma mater will be hurt.

Yet this merger has little to do with College Park. That huge campus will continue as the dominant flagship of the University of Maryland System. It is a campus with a bright future. But Baltimore also has a mission. Take biotechnology. The clear leaders in the life sciences within the university system are the UM campuses at Baltimore (UMAB) and in Baltimore County (UMBC). Putting these two successful institutions together would give Maryland a biotech powerhouse with immense potential.

If the Baltimore region is to fulfill its goal of creating a life-sciences industrial center in the next decade, it will need a potent academic component. A merged University of Maryland -- Baltimore is essential. It poses no threat to College Park, or any other state college or university campus. It does, though, offer a vast, exciting opportunity for economic development and advanced research that would have positive, statewide ramifications.

We urge Mr. Miller to sit down with University of Maryland leaders and reassess his position. The House of Delegates demonstrated its commitment to enhancing public higher education through the creation of UMB. Now it is Mr. Miller's turn.

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