Q&A Archives

President's Q&A, December 2011

December 15, 2011

The following are excerpts from Dr. Perman’s Q&A on Dec. 15 at Davidge Hall.

I thought I would spend a few minutes on my reflections of the merger study. Then I will see what’s on your minds.

Regarding the question of merging our University with UMCP in College Park: I don’t think there was ever an issue on anyone’s part about the opportunities afforded through increased collaboration not just between us and UMCP but with the other institutions in the University System of Maryland.

… So if one can put aside the politics and try to reflect on the appropriate piece of the question of merger, yes, we do need to collaborate more. Now granted there was a good deal of emotion and a great deal of misinformation around this question of why don’t you collaborate more. Some assumed there is no relationship between our University and College Park. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the faculty over the years and the leadership of the two institutions —perhaps not the top leadership—have worked very hard and have seen the opportunity and value in collaborating. So the question was merger or something else? 

And you know the outcome of the process was what I think is the appropriate result. That you can get an even better outcome by creating a formalized structure that enables collaboration, that works diligently to remove impediments to collaboration by institutions that are different in their culture, by institutions that are challenged by their distance. You can get an even better outcome if you create an infrastructure that enables collaboration and that is charged with seeking great opportunities to achieve things that neither could achieve alone. Ultimately the regents embraced the notion of a strategic alliance and not a formal merger because they saw it as a better idea—not as a first step toward a merger, not as a loan to get certain people off our backs. Everybody will believe what they want, but what I just told you is the truth. It is not a first step toward a merger. It is not a compromise. No, it is a better idea. It is a 21st-century idea. It is an idea that says institutions of different stripes and people of different stripes can partner and achieve great results without losing their identity and without losing their autonomy. 

So that’s the concept and now we have to put it into action. The chancellor, through the regents, has charged President Loh of College Park and myself and our colleagues to create the governance and structure of the alliance. The alliance will be an entity that is managed by UMB and UMCP. The alliance will have leadership that reports to the two presidents. In other words, there will be somebody charged with, as one of the regents put it, getting up in the morning and that will be his or her principal job to build the sorts of things we think the alliance should enable.

Those things will include educational programs, better articulated programs between the largely undergraduate population at College Park and our graduate programs. Those achievables will include exciting ideas for research. For example, the opportunities to partner our bioscientists with engineering programs at College Park. Our opportunities for our social scientists and our legal scholars to partner with their public policy experts in College Park. It will improve opportunities to grow things that are already built at the Universities at Shady Grove. They will include opportunities to take what our creative faculty enabled by our staff create and bring them into the marketplace. In other words commercialization and technology transfer. All of this can be done together. 

With everyone’s help it can be done quickly and without spending the time and the money that a formal merger would have required. We’re going to get to the business of the business. We have to do that first of all because you all have given me the bully pulpit and I think it’s the right thing to do. And secondly, we need to be accountable for it. I’ve said this is a better idea and the regents have agreed. So now we have to deliver on it. So for those who are skeptical and think this was some concoction to get some powerful folks off our backs, uh-uh. We’re going to do this. 

Q: When do we start?

I can tell you that early discussions already are being held between our campus and College Park. Ann Wylie, provost at College Park, is meeting with Pete Gilbert [vice president, planning and accountability] and Bruce Jarrell [executive vice dean, School of Medicine] several times this week as they start the planning. System leadership will be part of the process and we will probably enlarge the working groups to help Dr. Wallace Loh and myself to prepare the deliverables that the chancellor and the regents expect of us in 90 days. 

Q: Is there any inclusion of the other universities of the system? I know that was a big discussion point during the merger study.

That is a very good question. One of the objections of the notion of a merger between our two institutions was what was perceived as a negative impact on the other institutions in the system. Even with the alliance discussion they also said ‘Hey, what about us?’ and they are right to ask that question. 

I can tell you that kind of question resonates with me because one of the things before this all got started what I had promised that UMB would do is to facilitate health science education across the University System of Maryland. That’s what we should be doing. We are fortunate enough that we have multiple professions represented on this campus. There are health science education programs in most of the other institutions and they are all by themselves out there and isolated. Those students need also to work as a team and come to appreciate team-based health.

We at UMB have promised to facilitate that process. We are very mindful of the fact that we as an institution in the system have much to bring to the rest of the system. Having said that, what is crafted in the alliance concept by the regents is to facilitate work between UMB and College Park but that the other institutions will be able to benefit from the alliance.

For example, research goes on at other institutions in the system besides the two we’re talking about—most notably the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and increasing research at Towson University, among other places. They shouldn’t be expected to have the knowhow and the ability to transfer or to commercialize that we have so they should be able to take advantage of the alliance. There is going to be an infrastructure that will be sustained in the alliance. But the alliance also is conceived of something that puts programs together, they grow up in a positive way, then you take it out of the alliance so it can live somewhere in the system. Then the alliance goes on to the next great idea. The alliance should not be seen as yet another entity in the University System of Maryland. It’s sort of an incubator in some ways and in some ways it has a more permanent structure. 

Before moving on to other questions I want to wish each and every single one of you the happiest of holiday seasons. However you celebrate it, I want you to enjoy the time you have for yourself and for your families. We’ve all worked very hard on the issue we just talked about as well as many others and I hope you can get some time to reflect on the things and the people you love. Happy holidays. 

Q: Dr. Perman, I am an international student. Could our campus provide some on-campus job opportunities for international students?

I understand URecFit at our Southern Management Corporation Campus Center has three F-1 [international] students working there so there are jobs for international students if anyone asks. 

Q: (Summarized by Dr. Perman) There seem to be some questions about food at the Campus Center and about who services the Campus Center, looking for more vendors, and cheaper alternatives.

It’s a complicated issue and a consultant has been hired. It would be very difficult to expand because of the limited space at the Campus Center. I think what the questioners are asking, for example, if you go to the Student Union at College Park and want to eat lunch, it’s sort of like the mall, you have all these vendors and all of the brand names—none of which would be good for our obesity programs—but that’s what the people like and why can’t we do that here?

I don’t think we can do that here because we don’t have the space. In addition, the vendor we have now has a contract. My understanding is that money beyond what we have promised to pay comes back to the University. But anyway, food services are being evaluated. Flav, do you want to say anything about that?

Flavius Lilly, assistant vice president for academic affairs: Several months ago, the University engaged a consultant to evaluate food services in the SMC Campus Center. Recently, we received their report. It contained quite a number of excellent suggestions of how we can not only expand some of the offerings but take into account some of the suggestions we are hearing from students, faculty, and staff. We expect to implement many of these recommendations by July 1, 2012.

Dr. Perman: There appear to be some concerns about cost.

Mr. Lilly: Yes, there are cost concerns on two fronts. First, our University community has expressed concerns about the cost of food in the Campus Center. Our response will be to offer additional menu items at lower price points. Second, the cost of running the food service operation is more expensive because it is based on freshness, sustainability, and locally grown food sourcing. We are working on a plan that would preserve some of these important values and at the same time reduce operational costs of the service. 

QUESTION: I walk to class every day and not a day goes by that I do not see over 10 people smoking cigarettes right in front of the “No smoking, this campus is smoke-free” signs that are posted all over campus. Why is it that there is no enforcement? It is even worse that people in scrubs outside the hospital, including people in pink (shock trauma), are out there smoking. I am personally disturbed that people do not obey the rules and, even worse, are smoking on campus in the air that I walk through each day. Smoking is 100 percent harmful, and is clearly something the University is against, but it is not reinforced. Can you do something about this for me?

The current University smoking policy prohibits smoking in campus buildings and within 30 feet of doors, open windows, or air intakes. Right now it is permissible according to city and state laws to smoke on sidewalks, on roads, and in open areas. 

There has been a great deal of discussion on campus about this and whether we can get a city ordinance to prohibit smoking on sidewalks and streets in our campus zone. It has to be done in a way that is sensitive to our smokers and it has to be done in a way that doesn’t drive our smokers into the surrounding neighborhoods. 

It has been discussed whether we could have several locations where smoking is allowed. That brings back a bad memory for me because when I was at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine we had smoking shelters where patients and staff could smoke and one of these shelters was right in front of my office window as dean. The long and short of this is that a group has been working on this with the Medical Center and the VA. 

Q: But a law is being broken by smoking in a no-smoking zone. Shouldn’t there be a fine or some form of punishment?

Tony Williams, chief of the University Police Force: There is no criminal violation for violating the smoking policy because it is a policy and not a law. Here’s what we would offer to you: If you see someone violating the smoking policy, certainly we in the Department of Public Safety have made ourselves available and would be glad to talk to someone because we also see, quite frankly, that people are reluctant to tackle this problem firsthand. We’d be happy to talk to the person on your behalf, but the short answer is we’re not the smoking police and we do have other responsibilities.

Q: A variation related to the comfort and security of the student body, our campus community, and our visitors. The issue of unwanted solicitation, especially for patients and visitors, going from one building to another. This panhandling creates a very uncomfortable environment and is certainly not the kind of welcome we would encourage for folks who come down here. Secondly the issue of pedestrian traffic in front of the Plaza Garage and, of course, across Greene Street and how that could be mitigated.

Dr. Perman: I’m sure everyone in this room knows what you’re talking about and wishes it weren’t so. Chief Williams: We are certainly aware of the panhandling issues on the campus and are sensitive to them. It’s a little bit delicate because we have to discourage that behavior without violating the person’s rights. In case people don’t know there is no law against panhandling in the city. So we can’t arbitrarily chase them away. They don’t do it in front of us so you have to let us know when that is taking place. We aggressively go into the Plaza Park every day and certainly in front of the Plaza Garage and try to dissuade that behavior.

Q: But if we want this to be a vibrant community with lots of visitors and folks to take advantage of the excellent health care and services and benefits we provide through our schools and our Medical Center, we have to make sure it’s secure and welcoming somehow.

Chief Williams: Some of the concepts that you bring [about possible structural changes in the park] we call crime prevention through environmental design. There are some things we can do in regard to the actual physical environment to make it less conducive to that kind of [panhandling] behavior. But in terms of coming up with some internal laws, we still have to abide by city laws. 

Pete Gilbert, vice president for planning and accountability: This is something the campus community identified when we were developing our strategic plan. Theme No. 8 of the plan is to ‘create a vibrant, dynamic University community.’ The chief is being very humble in not mentioning that he is one of the leaders of that work group and I assure you that the plaza and these concepts were discussed in that group. The implementation of the plan is beginning in January so the chief and his very capable colleagues will be working on these things and I would suggest this issue be handled there.

Q: Is it legal for the vendors to sell their wares on the street across from the hospital?

Chief Williams: We have investigated that situation and the people selling there have a legal vendors or peddling license that allows them to set up shop and sell there. A lot of this stuff, to be candid, operates on supply and demand. If there weren’t a demand for the products they sell, the vendors wouldn’t be there. Quite frankly we see people from the University go there and patronize them, be it clothing or food, which is why they return.

Q: Is it possible to set up a text address so if people are walking around and see the smokers or the panhandlers they could contact the police? Obviously it offends a lot of people on campus. Sure, I can pull out my phone and call the campus police but wouldn’t a text message be a little quicker and easier while also providing you with some feedback?

Chief Williams: Certainly the logistics would have to be worked out. We would have to have a mechanism in place to receive those texts and certainly respond to them. I would like to see people work with us and also accept some more responsibility and not make it just a police issue. Because it’s not really a law enforcement issue it’s a community issue. We don’t get a lot of calls for smoking. We mainly hear about it at forums like this. 

Kathy Byington, vice president for administration and finance, who oversees campus safety: I do want to reemphasize the responsibility that we all have for the community that we build on this campus. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to say something to someone smoking in front of a no-smoking sign. But if we don’t take the responsibility for that we’re not going to see the positive changes we want to see in our environment.

We cannot rely on our police force to do all that for us. They are a limited resource and I’m sure you would all agree their first priority has to be the safety and security of our campus. We do have issues in the area as well and I want to make sure we keep them focused on the places where they can provide the most benefit and the unique benefit. They can do things that we cannot do in terms of safety and security. We can talk to our counterparts and our colleagues from the hospital who are standing on the sidewalks smoking

Q: Why isn’t the VOICE emailed to employees? We often get so busy we don’t have time to look for it online. Isn’t it important enough to be sent campuswide? My department only receives limited paper copies and if it’s worth printing, why wouldn’t it be promoted?

Dr. Perman: So we have the VOICE online. It’s broader in terms of content than the paper edition. It’s circulated in tandem with the printed newsletter, but it does have expanded content. I do care that people get the VOICE in the form that they want. We put the print edition in newsstands and in offices across campus. Beginning with the October 2011 issue, email announcements are sent campuswide when the print and online editions are available. If your department would like additional print copies, please contact the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at 410-706-2517.

Q: With an increased emphasis on interprofessional collaboration, would it be possible for Campus IT to explore the possibility of having a single Wi-Fi that extends across the campus? Currently we can only access the Internet (and thus our remote access to our files/documents) in our own buildings. At least if there was a universal “Guest” login that worked across the campus, this would help us to work better together.

Peter Murray, vice president and chief information officer: This is a very timely question because we have a project under way that is going to provide universal access to our wireless network in buildings across campus. The way we’re going to do that is through the use of your myUMID, for which all faculty, staff, and students have [or, if you have an SOM ID, you will be able to use that, too]. So wherever you go on campus and there is a wireless connection you can use either your myUMID or SOM ID to connect to the wireless network. 

In addition, this technology will allow us to transport those IDs to other institutions that have implemented this technology. So, for example, at College Park or at UMBC or Towson, you can go to those institutions and use your myUMID [or SOM ID] to access their wireless network. And vice versa, people at those institutions can come here and use their local wireless logon ID to access our wireless network. So this universal access to campus wireless networks will make it easier for students, faculty, and staff to collaborate between our institutions.

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