Leading lawmakers served notice to University System of Maryland officials yesterday that they expect it to form a top-level biosciences council to increase research collaboration among its member institutions.
Del. Nancy K. Kopp and Sen. Robert R. Neall told Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg and the presidents of four of the institutions that they want the system to develop a comprehensive plan to make the best use of the state's biotechnology research.
For the second straight week, the educators came to Annapolis to brief House Appropriations and Senate Budget and Taxation subcommittees on their cooperative efforts in biotech, considered a vital element in Maryland's future economic development. Last week, a similar briefing was interrupted when smoke from a small fire forced the evacuation of the Thomas V. Mike Miller Senate Office Building.
Neall, chairman of the Senate subcommittee, said he thinks the universities have not done a good job of collaborating to get the best use of the state's assets - especially when it comes to attracting research dollars from private industry.
None of the presidents - representing the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute; and the University of Maryland, Baltimore - disagreed about the importance of intercampus cooperation.
"There is a gold rush going on here that we need to be a part of," said UMCP President C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr. "We can't afford not to make the best use of our resources."
But Mote's generally upbeat presentation, which consisted largely of a laundry list of current collaborative projects, contrasted with the blunt assessment delivered by UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III.
"We aren't doing anything like what we should be doing as a system. We could be bringing in much more money," he said. "I do think the state needs to say to education: Get your act together."
Hrabowski told legislators that UMBC has had "substantive" collaborations with UMB and UMBI, but he pointedly omitted College Park from the list.
"Dan and I need to talk about some things," Hrabowski said.
His views were echoed by Jennie Hunter-Cevera, president of UMBI. She supported the idea of a biotech council, adding that the campus presidents need to become involved in such thorny issues as intellectual property rights.
In diplomatic terms, Hunter-Cevera emphasized the need for College Park to collaborate with the smaller schools in the system. "The flagship needs a flotilla," she said.
Some of the educators suggested that private companies should be involved in the council from the beginning. But Neall suggested that the university system needs to devise its own coordinated strategy before including outside groups.
"I don't think we should just invite a lot of people in and have a disorganized mess," the Anne Arundel County Democrat said.
Neall and Kopp, who over the past year have been applying pressure to the university system to work more closely together, expressed optimism that communication within the system would improve.
"I sense some movement toward understanding and working with each other," said Kopp, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee.
Both expressed strong agreement with Hrabowski. "He's right on target," Kopp said.
Neall was less enthusiastic about Mote's presentation.
"I think he's picking up the signal. I'm not sure he's exactly deciphered it yet," Neall said.