On Eastern Shore, a meeting of the minds resolved years of racial tension

THE EDUCATION BEAT

October 04, 1994|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,Sun Staff Writer

Not much is heard these days about merging the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Salisbury State University.

One reason is that, after years of political and racial tension between the historically black UMES and the predominantly white Salisbury State, 15 miles apart, the presidents of the two schools simply sat down, divided up the turf in a way they saw as equitable, implemented a plan -- and then informed poobahs west of the Bay Bridge that the deed was done.

"We carved up the turf like a couple of New York bosses," said Thomas E. Bellavance, the Salisbury president, of his meetings with William P. Hytche, UMES president, in the late 1980s.

"What we did," said Dr. Hytche, "is allow for as much exchange of students and programs as we could without merging and without destroying the distinct missions of both universities."

Under the plan, Salisbury students who can't find a course in nutrition, for example, can travel to UMES with no money exchanged. No courses in philosophy at UMES? Take them at Salisbury. Ride the free bus, which runs every half hour. The two schools share the cost equally.

It's also possible to earn two related degrees from both schools in the same four years -- biology at Salisbury and environmental science at UMES, for example.

Since the shuttle began in 1991, the number of students taking courses on both campuses has grown steadily, from 67 the first year to nearly 200 this fall, about two-thirds of them going south, from Salisbury to UMES.

Two other things have helped, according to both presidents. The fact that both UMES and Salisbury State became part of the University of Maryland System in 1988 has kept the relationship on an even keel. (Salisbury formerly had been part of the now-defunct state college system.)

And the two universities made their academic calendars identical: same weeks off, same holidays. That may seem a small item unless one understands how difficult it is for higher education to coordinate anything.

It was not always that easy on the Lower Eastern Shore. Nineteen years ago, the Rosenberg commission, after studying education in Maryland for two years, recommended merger of the two campuses.

The Sun agreed editorially, calling the 15-mile gulf between south Salisbury and Princess Anne a "taunting reminder of Maryland's segregated past." But the proposal faced insuperable opposition, especially from blacks, who feared absorption of their school into the larger Salisbury State.

"We were down so long, there was nothing really to compel us to cooperate," said Dr. Hytche, "but now we have quality programs, and when you have quality, they will come."

So successful has the relationship been that the two presidents have become resources for other educators, mostly in the South, who are considering cooperative arrangements between side-by-side historically black and formerly segregated white colleges.

But this happy coexistence (if not a marriage) may have more to do with two personalities than anything else.

"After we presented it to the governor as a fait accompli," chuckled Dr. Bellavance, "he told us what a great idea it was."

A care package

On opening day at Tench Tilghman Elementary School in inner-city Baltimore, each pupil received a small "care pack." A tiny scroll wrapped in red ribbon explained the contents:

"The cotton ball is to remind you that this school is full of kind words and warm feelings. The chocolate kiss is to comfort you when you are feeling sad. The sticker is to remind you that we will all stick together and help each other. The rubber band is to remind you to hug someone. The penny is to remind you that you are valuable and special. . . .

"The bandage is to remind you to heal hurt feelings in your colleagues and friends. The gold thread is to remind you that friendship ties our hearts together. The eraser is to remind you that everyone makes mistakes, and that is OK. The Life Saver is to remind you that you can come to us if you need someone to talk to."

It was signed by Betty Turner, principal, and Daphne Whittington, assistant principal.

$1 million in the mail

A few weeks ago, Judy Jolley Mohraz, the new president of Goucher College, got a hand-addressed envelope in the regular mail.

Inside, she found another hand-addressed document -- a check for $1 million made out to Goucher College.

The check was written by Margot Birmingham Perot, a 1955 graduate of Goucher, on behalf of her and her husband, Ross, (yes, that Ross Perot) and earmarked for faculty endowment.

Dr. Mohraz said the school had expected the gift; Goucher is about to launch a capital campaign that will be chaired by Mrs. Perot. But the Goucher president said she'd never before held a check for $1 million, certainly not a hand-written check for such a sum.

"I thought," she said, "that it probably takes less effort to -- off a check for $1 million than to write one for, say, $49.78 at the supermarket."

Dr. Mohraz did not, we guess, ask Mrs. Perot for a driver's license or other form of identification.

This begins a weekly column about education by Mike Bowler, The Sun's education editor.

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