Bridging the gap between 2 universities UMES, Salisbury students share classes

November 14, 1995|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Lyle Denniston contributed to this article.

PRINCESS ANNE -- College life changed radically on the Eastern Shore last fall, right on schedule. A bus schedule. Officials at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Salisbury State University -- the first a ht would save money in tight times. Create stronger academic programs. Promote racial understanding. That sort of thing.

So the officials arranged for frequent and regular bus service between the two. They staggered the starting time for classes so that students could hop on a bus and still make class down the road. And they coordinated their academic calendars so their holidays -- and exams -- fall at the same time.

Seemingly simple steps. But officials at the University of Maryland System headquarters, a sober crew, consider those moves to be rampant innovation.

Many Maryland campuses, public and private, have courses attended by students from other schools. The University of Maryland at Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County jointly run some graduate programs, and several schools beam their lectures via satellite onto campuses in the far reaches of the state, for example. But for all the talk about systemwide collaboration, the Eastern Shore experiment is as dramatic as it gets.

Opposites attract

"For years and years, these two campuses were side by side, but it was almost like they were hundreds of miles away," said Thomas W. Jones, chairman of Salisbury State's department of biological sciences. "Instead of each campus offering upper-level biology courses for 10 students here and 12 students there, for example, let's offer one course on our campus this year, and the other campus next year."

This fall, the two schools say they have harvested a bumper crop of student interest. Right now, nearly 200 students from each campus are pursuing dual degrees on the other campus. Most of those Salisbury State students are biology majors also seeking a degree from UMES in environmental sciences, while most of the UMES students are sociology majors also seeking to earn a degree in social work from Salisbury State. Many students also are chasing education degrees that can only be secured by taking courses at both schools.

Administrators at the two schools said they hope to enhance greatly the education they offer to students, while limiting the number of courses that overlap. UMES no longer has a history major, while Salisbury State has given up any hopes of offering computer science.

Officials also said they think the initiative offers a possible resolution of a challenge left lingering for too long -- how to integrate previously segregated campuses while not stripping black schools of their traditional character.

That is the dilemma posed in federal courts by Ayres vs. Fordice, which resulted in plans to desegregate Mississippi's color-coded campuses. In that case, a court barred Mississippi officials from closing a black college and merging it with a nearby white one, and ruled that the high proportion of duplicated courses at the state's white and black universities was a continuing aspect of segregation.

In the early 1980s, Salisbury State President Thomas E. Bellavance and UMES President William P. Hytche decided they'd rather act in concert than combat for money and attention from the state.

"It would be a waste of taxpayer money to create two campuses 12 miles apart if you could wipe the slate clean," concedes Salisbury State Provost K. Nelson Butler. But, he pointed out, the two schools now perform different functions. UMES is a research campus with a strong emphasis on the pragmatic, involving majors in aviation, poultry management and industrial arts, for example. Salisbury State, on the other hand, is attempting to promote itself as a comprehensive liberal arts campus.

While the dual degree programs appear to have achieved popularity, interviews with students suggest that Salisbury State and UMES have a long way to go before deep mutual understanding is achieved.

Jim Doyle, an associate professor of biology at UMES who is teaching a course on marine botany to students from both

campuses, said the interaction was welcome but has not sparked any life-changing insights for anyone involved. "I think it provides a wider perspective," Dr. Doyle said. "It helps, I think, probably, to break down the misperceptions that people might have."

Salisbury State's student body is 91 percent white. UMES is 72 percent black. And a healthy interest alternates with apathy in many conversations with undergraduates about the campus on the other end of the 12-mile stretch of U.S. 13. Few cultural events are held together, and the campus newspapers contain few articles about one another, if any.

"I heard it's a nice school," said Jim Lex, a Salisbury State geography major from Berlin, N.H. "The only thing I ever heard on the local news was that a girl got killed there. We don't have anything to do with [students there] at all."

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