UMAB aims to be among the best Interview: The university's president reflects on financial and administrative challenges as the professional schools work toward their goal of being among the top three in their fields.

The Education Beat

June 24, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT'S NO EASY JOB running the University of Maryland, Baltimore. When David J. Ramsay took the job of president nearly four years ago, fresh from the University of California at San Francisco, he'd been preceded by eight men in the previous decade.

A Prince George's County state delegate had called UMAB "a collection of fiefdoms, populated with strong personalities."

The British-born Ramsay vowed to halt the infighting and move the schools of dentistry, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and social work into the top ranks of their fields.

Ramsay, 59, was interviewed last week in his office in historic Davidge Hall on Lombard Street.

Managed care in medicine is said to be damaging the quality of medical education. Is this true?

Eighty-five percent of our budget is medical, and the academic programs have in fact been supported by income earned out of clinical operations. That income is being threatened, and if our clinical operations don't survive, we're in deep, deep trouble.

Our cost of doing business is higher than that of most other hospitals, so we have to shave costs, mainly from physicians, in order to stay competitive. This means that we have to be ever more energetic in maintaining the quality of our academic programs. They haven't suffered, but they're under a lot of pressure.

Surprisingly, you'd think a medical career would become less attractive as physicians work harder for about the same income, but this hasn't happened. This year we had in excess of 4,000 applications for about 140 places. It just amazes me. I could never get into medical school!

There's been a lot of talk about restructuring the [University System of Maryland]. It seems to happen about once every 10 years. What do you think?

Ten years doesn't seem enough time for it to settle down, particularly since the first few years [after Maryland's last restructuring in 1988] was a recession. In the last two or three years, the system has begun to function a little better as a working unit.

Having said that, I think research-intensive schools like College Park and ourselves are really quite complementary. What [William E.] Brit Kirwan [the College Park president who is leaving to take the presidency of Ohio State University] was saying is that in dealing with the board of regents, he didn't have the group of individuals who knew each institution well and could sort of root for it. I partly agree with that. One way to change that is to give each campus' board of visitors a stronger role in governance. We have boards of visitors now, but they're very much advisory groups.

Speaking of reorganization, there's a territorial dispute over Dr. Robert Gallo's virology institute. Would you like to absorb the Gallo operation?

The regents are taking this up at a meeting in July. I can't say

XTC much more than that.

But what is your own recommendation?

There's a close working relationship between the institute and the campus. The faculty of the institute is heavily involved with the medical school, so if we end up taking over the running of the institute, it would be a natural sort of change.

Explain what you're doing to break down the walls of the UMAB fiefdoms?

Since so much of what we do is medically related, it's surprisingly easy to get the schools and the various disciplines to work together, and they're doing that much more harmoniously now. For example, the schools of dentistry, pharmacy and medicine are cooperating in pain research.

Another sign of the times is that we're encouraging faculty these days to think about commercialization, to think about how their research has application in the outside world as a potential source of income.

We're one of the biggest businesses in town, with a payroll between $350 million and $400 million, and the hospital about the same again. Running a campus like this is like running a business. You're always trying to strike a balance between academic needs and the very real financial needs of the campus and hospital.

UMAB obviously has been a major factor in stabilizing downtown Baltimore. Will you play an expanded role as an employer and landlord?

We have to be careful that we do the things we were set up to do and don't stray too far. We educate, we deliver health care, we undertake research. Institutions like this get in trouble when they try to run everything.

Give us an update on your vow to place each of your schools in the top three positions in their field within five years.

We're not there yet, but we're getting there. Our faculty is doing very well in the competition for federal grants and contracts. Our clinical programs are highly regarded and have placed the law school in the top 10.

When you came, you said the University of California at San Francisco would be a template for this institution. Has that happened?

That will happen.

How long?

Five years.

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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