Welcome the Shriver Center

December 17, 1993

When all 10 of the public and private colleges in the Baltimore area cooperate on a project -- and when nine of the 10 chief executives choose to attend the project's launching -- it is worth remarking. In this case, the project is a public service center with an urgent mission: combating urban decay.

The Shriver Center, based on the campus of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, traces its beginning to UMBC's Choice program, founded by Mark K. Shriver. Choice, funded largely by the state Department of Juvenile Services, sends recent college graduates into the cities, where they act as mentors and role models. Mr. Shriver's parents, R. Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, were there Tuesday for the center's inaugural, and suddenly its potential was greatly expanded. (The Shrivers' pledge of an undisclosed sum for the center didn't hurt.)

All colleges and universities have academic and community service programs directed at the city and its problems. Yet the academy tends to shut its doors to this real world, as though there were something dirty about turning scholarship into service. Not for nothing is academia called the "ivory tower."

A center drawing on the resources, skills and insights of all 10 colleges and universities in a metropolitan area has immense potential for helping ease the nation's urban crisis -- the crisis, quite simply, of our times.

The new center has an opportunity not to repeat mistakes. A number of other consortiums and institutes and centers devoted to urban affairs have come and gone, some on the campuses of those schools involved in the Shriver Center. Too often they produce nothing but reports, their authors hastening to and fro without seeing the crumbling city around them. The Shriver Center ought to be different. It could prove its worth by applying what it learns, reaching out to a community desperately in need.

And the Shriver Center could set an example for its 10 founders. For too many years they have squabbled over academic turf, wasting taxpayers' and tuition payers' money to maintain outmoded departments and prestige. Could this consortium be a sign that those days are gone?

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