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Letters to the UMB Community
SB 1052: University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act
To the UMB Community:
On Feb. 19, I wrote to you with news that a bill had been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to codify a partnership between UMB and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP).
I certainly support the intentions of Senate Bill 1052, as articulated by its backers: to strengthen the existing partnership between UMB and our sister university in College Park and enable us to do even more good for our students and our state.
However, I believe this bill, as currently written, could have unintended consequences harmful to UMB and the city we call home. There is considerable value in having a strong, autonomous research institution in Baltimore. There is considerable value in having a powerful anchor institution in Baltimore, an institution that stabilizes and strengthens the local economy. And I have concerns that SB 1052 jeopardizes UMB’s influence and impact in both of these roles.
As written, the bill effectively merges UMB and UMCP, creating two campuses of one “University of Maryland.” The bill establishes a common personnel system, an expensive undertaking with no funds currently allocated to it. The bill allows the College Park campus to retain its lead status within the University System of Maryland—namely, the ability to present its budget to the governor and receive priority in funding—and provides no comparable opportunity to the Baltimore campus. The bill also raises the possibility of installing one university president to lead both institutions, should the Board of Regents approve such an action.
I know that many of UMB’s academic leaders, faculty, and staff came to this University for the opportunity to work in a specially focused institution and to enjoy ready access to the upper reaches of leadership, where their work and the work of their schools find powerful champions and priority in resourcing. And so we must be assured that this legislation in no way dilutes the ability of UMB’s people to execute our critical missions with fidelity and authority.
Proponents of SB 1052 maintain that, by uniting UMB and UMCP into one University of Maryland, we may combine each institution’s grant and contract funding for reporting purposes and thereby raise our standing in national research rankings. (And, in fact, combining our research dollars under one federal identifier might require that a single president lead both institutions.)
While I understand the appeal of joining two powerhouse research universities—each with about $500 million annually in extramural funding—I don’t consider raising our rankings sufficient reason to threaten the autonomy and influence of UMB. We can grow our collaborative research—research that holds enormous promise for improving human health and well-being—without changing the way we report such research. It is, after all, only the material impact of our discoveries that truly matters.
To be sure, there are components of the bill that would benefit Baltimore—for instance, a university ventures center, to be located in the city, intended to speed the translation of our discoveries into products and companies that move Maryland forward.
And yet I agree with last week’s Baltimore Sun editorial that, should College Park become the de facto headquarters for this one University of Maryland, the city of Baltimore would undoubtedly suffer. As one of the city’s most powerful anchor institutions, UMB must use its influence and assets to benefit Baltimore.
And there is absolutely no substitute for proximity when trying to make a difference in communities that have been isolated and marginalized for years—communities that are, therefore, slow to trust and slow to heal. Our neighbors need to know that they can rely on us, and that we have the power and clout to do what we say we’re going to do. Without question, Baltimore needs UMB, and we cannot abandon the city we’ve promised to help.
UMB and UMCP already enjoy a close and beneficial partnership. By any measure, MPowering the State, launched four years ago, has been a tremendous success. Under the MPower partnership, UMB and UMCP have grown joint research dollars from practically zero to nearly $71 million. We’ve grown joint faculty appointments from one to 70-plus. Our unified technology transfer office is aggressively developing and marketing university innovations. In just a few years, UMB and UMCP have disclosed 1,407 inventions, licensed 209 technologies, and launched 41 startup companies.
And while we could fortify this partnership without any bill at all, we are strongly supportive of all efforts—legislated or not—that draw us tighter to our sister university in College Park. Therefore, when I testified on SB 1052 this morning before the Maryland Senate, I indicated my eagerness to collaborate on bill amendments that would accomplish a closer alliance between our universities without diluting the autonomy, influence, and impact of UMB.
I will be back in touch to update you on the status and implications of this bill and our efforts to help craft legislation that strengthens UMB’s partnership with UMCP and leaves intact our ability to act in the best interests of this University and the people we serve.
Jay A. Perman, MD