No one has set forth a better vision for Baltimore in the next century than Michael J. Hooker, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. But sadly, we will have to make that exciting vision a reality without Dr. Hooker, who has accepted a new challenge -- running the five-campus, 51,000-student University of Massachusetts.
Mike Hooker's first love is philosophy. When he arrived on UMBC's Catonsville campus in 1986, he already had a well thought-out picture of what he wanted UMBC to become, and what he wanted the Baltimore region to become. UMBC would be in the vanguard of Baltimore's knowledge-driven future. "Research universities have an increasingly significant role to play," he said. "The knowledge discovered and created in universities will be the fuel rods powering the economy of the 21st century."
This means not only creating knowledge at UMBC, but transferring it from laboratories to practical applications. So Dr. Hooker went about forming business and government partnerships for UMBC, focusing much of the campus' efforts on leading-edge pursuits such as biotechnology, photonics, robotics and artificial intelligence.
He saw UMBC as the engine capable of turning Baltimore into a center for life science technologies. Corporate and government pTC leaders bought into the idea. The region is now heavily committed to creating a life sciences future for Baltimore.
UMBC is a better campus than it was before Dr. Hooker's arrival. It is drawing more bright students, with an enrollment of 10,000. Contracts and grants stand at $16 million. It holds a prominent role in engineering, information and computer sciences, public policy and technology transfer.
Yet Dr. Hooker failed to persuade parochial legislators and jealous academics in College Park to let UMBC consolidate operations with UM's downtown Baltimore campus. This move is essential for developing the kind of synergy in medical and biological high-tech research that Baltimore needs.
Replacing Dr. Hooker won't be easy. He raised UMBC to star status among peer institutions. His successor must be capable of surmounting political obstacles to a UMBC-UMAB merger.
Rather than name an interim president from the campus community, UM Chancellor Donald Langenberg and Gov. William Donald Schaefer ought to give serious thought to appointing UMAB's president, Errol L. Reese, to the dual role of presiding over UMAB and UMBC. There is ample precedent. Albin O. Kuhn served as president of both UMAB and UMBC for five years when the Catonsville campus first opened in 1966.
This appointment would send a clear message to foes of consolidation that the governor and Dr. Langenberg are serious about moving the two campuses closer together. Substantial steps can be taken toward a formal merger without legislative approval. The pursuit of a powerful academic center for the life sciences must go forward. It remains a central component of Mike Hooker's vision.