UM at Five Years: A System on Course



College Park. -- The University of Maryland System is five years old today! A birthday is a good time in the life of a person or an institution to take stock, to ask ''How are we doing?'' For our system, the answer is ''Remarkably well, everything considered.''

The University of Maryland System was created to provide Maryland with a nationally eminent system of public higher education. In its initial years, it was given unprecedented increases in financial support. Hopes and expectations were high. Then our state's economy took a sudden nosedive, and so did the system's state funding -- nearly 20 percent less than it was just three years ago. The decline is significantly greater when inflation is taken into account.

In such circumstances, some institutions abandon their lofty goals and concentrate on preserving as much of the status quo as they can. Not the University of Maryland System! Its regents have steadfastly maintained their commitment to the system's legislatively mandated goal, ''to achieve and sustain national eminence with each component fulfilling a distinct and complementary mission.''

Our goal has not changed, but hard times have forced us to find a different path toward it. We have done so while continuing to develop the new operational mechanisms and behavioral patterns our new system requires.

The results of our efforts are en- couraging. While state support has declined, revenue from other sources has increased. In the first four years of the system's life, external grants and contracts (mostly for research) rose from $165 million to $273 million (an increase of 65 percent), and we anticipate another substantial increase in the year just ended. That is direct evidence of the vigor and quality of our faculty, who must win such support in fierce national competition.

In its first year, the system launched its first major effort to raise funds from private sources, the Campaign for Maryland, with a goal of $200 million in five years. With six months to go, the campaign has already attracted more than $240 million in gifts.

By any measure, the community of scholars comprising the system's faculty and students is strong and growing stronger. Our faculty garners a steady stream of prestigious awards in recognition of the excellence of its work. A recent example is the MacArthur Foundation's award of one of its ''genius'' grants to Dr. Ellen Silbergeld, a toxicologist on the faculty of the University of Maryland at Baltimore. The average SAT scores of our incoming freshmen are rising; two of our campuses (Salisbury State University and University of Maryland Baltimore County) have experienced jumps of nearly a hundred points or more in five years.

The most important benefit of a university system, through, is the opportunity it affords to marshal the human and financial resources of its institutions so that the performance of the whole transcends what can be achieved individually by its constituent parts. This is not a benefit that follows automatically from mere organizational integration. The requisite cooperation and coordination cannot be taken for granted. Natural inter-institutional tensions can be divisive and counterproductive in the best of times, and hard times can heighten centrifugal forces. Nevertheless, in its brief life the University of Maryland System has produced many examples of the benefits of inter-institutional collaboration and has demonstrated what a university system can do.

The regents have developed a coherent policy framework for the system (in more than 200 policy statements) and have established a vision for the system that defines it as ''a family of distinctive and complementary institutions.'' They have more sharply focused and differentiated the missions of our institutions. They have recently acted to discontinue or reconfigure more than 100 academic programs across the system to eliminate redundancies and to free up resources for redeployment to the enhancement of undergraduate education.

Joint academic programs and other forms of inter-institutional academic cooperation are growing. Examples include a joint M.B.A./Ph.D. program in nursing offered by the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland at Baltimore, and joint programs between Salisbury State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in several fields, including teacher education.

The system has opened its Shady Grove Center in Montgomery County. Demand there is so great that planning has already begun for a second classroom building. We have established the Downtown Baltimore Center to serve the continuing-education and professional-development needs of Baltimore workers. Eleven of our institutions have joined in an effort to improve elementary and secondary education in math and science, an effort that has recently won a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

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