Senate Considers UMB-UMCP Strategic Partnership Act

March 1, 2016    |  

“There’s no substitute for proximity when you’re trying to make a difference in communities that have been isolated and marginalized for years,” University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Jay A. Perman, MD, told the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee at a hearing in Annapolis Tuesday, March 1.

The bill under discussion was SB 1052, the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016, which would establish one University of Maryland with two campuses, one in Baltimore and one in College Park in an effort to spur greater educational and research collaboration. Calling himself a “fierce advocate” for close partnership, Perman supported the bill’s pro-collaboration intent, but warned of dangerous “unintended consequences” of a provision in the bill that would allow the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents to place control of both campuses under one president.

“UMB has to be able to act in the best interests of Baltimore City, and our autonomy in this regard can't be compromised,” Perman testified. “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.”

Board of Regents Vice Chair Barry P. Gossett praised the bill, saying “there are many elements of Senate Bill 1052 that would serve to advance the overall goal of a stronger, broader, more strategic alliance between these two great universities,” but added that “advancing beyond the strategic partnership to a merger with a single president, unified personnel systems, et cetera, is not supported by a majority of the board.”

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hears testimony on SB 1052, the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hears testimony on SB 1052, the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016

Another regent, James T. Brady, a former director of T. Rowe Price, Constellation Energy, and McCormick & Co., expressed his reservations more strongly. “With anything as complicated as SB 1052, the devil is in the details,” he said. “What UMB has done with the inner city community in Baltimore is special. They have programs that deal with the very grass-roots issues that are at the heart of the problems we have, and having a president at UMB calling the shots, and making the decisions is not a nice thing, I believe it is absolutely essential.”

Brady also expressed concern that a merger of campuses might overshadow the rest of USM's institutions to their detriment. “What we do not want at the end of this is something that someone characterized as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

While supporting the general intent of SB 1052, former USM Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, PhD, also shared his concerns about a merger of the two campuses, citing the importance of UMB leadership to the health and well-being of the surrounding communities. “I did not support the idea to merge UMB and UMCP five years ago,” he explained, “because there would not be a resident CEO in Baltimore overseeing the resources of UMB in Baltimore. These assets are too important to Baltimore for them to be managed part-time or from College Park. Baltimore needs and deserves to have a president overseeing all of UMB’s assets who is an engaged member of that community.”

Since Perman became president in 2010, UMB has become a critical force in the redevelopment of West Baltimore and greatly increased the delivery of health, social, and legal services to residents there.

Each year, the students, faculty, and staff of UMB spend hundreds of thousands of hours in service to the community. The School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine alone treats more than 50,000 people each year. The School of Social Work-led Promise Heights Initiative partners with community-based nonprofits and faith-based organizations working in five partner schools to improve the educational, social, health, and economic opportunities of children from birth to young adulthood in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood.  

Last year UMB opened a Community Engagement Center in West Baltimore, bringing an expanding array of services closer to the communities and the people the University serves. One of the newest and most exciting programs is the UMB CURE Scholars Program, which pairs promising local middle school students with hundreds of mentors, preparing them for health care and research careers through hands-on workshops and lab experiences.

Perman’s testimony also addressed provisions of the bill that would promote stronger collaboration in research and educational opportunities. He called the current UMB-UMCP alliance formed by the Board of Regents in 2012 – University of Maryland: MPowering the State - “one of the best things ever to happen to these two universities.”

After fewer than four years MPower already has a long list of accomplishments. Joint research funding has grown from essentially nothing to $70 million. Joint faculty appointments have increased from 1 to 60. And under UM Ventures, MPower’s unified tech-transfer office, 1,400 inventions have been disclosed, 200 technologies have been licensed, and 40 startup companies have been launched.

About two-dozen witnesses testified at Tuesday’s hearing, uniformly supportive of increased synergy. Many of them, current or former students at one or both universities, also spoke of academic and institutional benefits.

The bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore City, recounted his experience as a first-year law student in Baltimore. He told the committee he was disappointed that he did not qualify for a student discount when he tried to purchase Terps basketball tickets. Ferguson characterized Baltimore leaders’ response to a merger proposal in 2011 as an effort to “circle the wagons,” and said his bill represents a “fantastic opportunity for the Baltimore and metropolitan regions to compete globally.” “In the 21st century, you either adapt or you die,” he said.

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, a co-sponsor, thanked both universities’ presidents for their successes with MPower, and said the enhanced partnership would build upon their work. “This is very much a groundbreaking concept that MPower has taken us to,” he said. “We want to change this from the Inner Harbor to the Innovative Inner Harbor." 

University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) President Wallace Loh, PhD, JD, spoke passionately about the greater impact a more formalized partnership – what he called MPower on steroids - would have on research, innovation, and educational opportunities and argued for the need to merge the two campuses under one president in the future. “One plus one when MPower is on steroids will equal five, not three,” he told the committee. “We’re talking about a wagon with two horses. But if we want one plus one equals seven, at some point you can no longer have two drivers. You have to have one driver. We’re not there yet. I do not believe that the culture is present at this time. We still have to develop more credibility, more trust so that there can be one driver.”

Speaking more concretely about the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Act, USM Chancellor Robert L. Caret, PhD, asked legislators to consider a phase-in period to allow time for many of the finer points to be worked out. “We’re very supportive of the bill, but we do believe it needs to be amended, clarified, and edited before it can be implemented,” he said. “I would as chancellor support where the board is on this and ask for a 10- to 12-month implementation period where we would study these reaffirmations, these changes that are needed, these edits that are needed, and come back over that 10 to 12 months and talk with all of the people involved and get to the point where we have specific language that allows us to move forward with the bill.”

Key provisions of SB 1052, the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016, include:

  • The establishment of one university, to be known as the University of Maryland, with two campuses, in Baltimore and in College Park. Although each campus would initially be overseen by its own president, if one of the presidents were to leave office the Board of Regents could opt not to replace him or her, directing instead that both campuses should be run by one president.
  • Direction to the presidents of each campus to "jointly develop and implement a plan that encourages and promotes alignment, cooperation, and collaboration" overseen by the Maryland Joint Steering Council, whose members would be chosen by each president.
  • The formation of the Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures in Baltimore that would pursue joint grant funding and oversee technology transfer. The center would receive at least $1 million annually for several years to help attract technology businesses to Baltimore.
  • The formation of the Maryland Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Development in College Park, receiving at least $10 million in annual funding in perpetuity. That center would advance educational programs in the areas of virtual reality, neurosciences, data analytics, and cyber security.
  • Direction to the governor to provide $61 million in capital funding to build the Biomedical and Engineering Education Facility at the Universities at Shady Grove.

The bill is cross-filed with House Bill HB 1607. A hearing date in the House of Delegates has not yet been determined.

Read President Perman's full testimony to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee here.