Q&A Archives

President’s Q&A, March 2018

March 07, 2018

University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Jay A. Perman, MD, took questions from a crowd of about 60 faculty, staff, and students on March 7 at the School of Pharmacy in his first quarterly Q&A session of 2018. To start, he gave a sneak peek of his annual State of the University Address, scheduled for May 9, and talked about the gun violence debate sparked by the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

Here is a recap of the Q&A:

Dr. Perman: I give a State of the University Address each spring, and it will be May 9 this year. I can tell you in advance that the state of the University is excellent. That’s because of the hard work of the people in this room and all of your colleagues. It’s very easy to say that, but there are some metrics we use to assess how the year’s going. And those metrics are generally tied to our core missions.

One of our core missions is research, because we’re a research-intensive institution. The best way to measure research is whether it does what we say in our mission statement — whether it collectively improves the human condition. That’s hard to measure, so we use the peer review process — those who sit in judgment of whether our research should be funded because they’re supposed to fund things that have significance and will make a difference. We use dollar figures, and our numbers are probably better than ever in terms of our grants and contracts to date. We had a banner year in the fiscal year that closed June 30, 2017, and we’ve got data through seven months of Fiscal Year 2018 that shows we are going to come out even better this year. Those dollars are very important and are a proxy for the fact that what we are doing is meaningful and important.

As far as education, our enrollment is growing, and that’s a big deal because not every institution of higher education is growing. The importance of higher education is being questioned. The value of higher education — what it costs for what you get — is being questioned. And colleague institutions are struggling with enrollment. We are not. In terms of services, certainly in schools that provide clinical services, we have growth there, too. In terms of three traditional missions — research, education, and services — the University is strong, growing, and fiscally sound.

As for fundraising, we’re doing very well with the Catalyst campaign. I’m going to predict that by the end of March we will reach what we budgeted to achieve for the fiscal year with three months to go or maybe do even better than that. Those dollars allow us to do things through the generosity of donors that don’t get paid for by grants and contracts. Those are the dollars that allow us to be a greater university.

Dr. Perman addressed his Feb. 19 letter to the UMB community, “An Economic Incentive for Gun Control,” in which he said he would ask leaders of professional and scientific organizations to consider the strictness of a state's gun-control laws when choosing meeting sites for conferences and other events.

Dr. Perman: I took a stand about gun violence knowing full well there are various views, even opposing views, about this issue at this University. I want to make it very clear that this is what I’m doing as a thought leader, because this is what a president is supposed to do. You might wish to ask your professional organizations to consider where they hold their meetings, because there are dollars attached to those decisions.

I got a lot of responses from people on this campus. With one exception, the responses were positive. Many people on this campus took that letter and turned it around to their organizations. They’ve gotten a lot of feedback, which they’ve in turn given me. I’m not telling anyone what to do here. This is fully individualized. The University has not taken a position. The University does not and will not boycott anybody. But I said in that letter, “Tell me what you think.” We are supposed to improve the human condition. There is very little research focused on gun violence in this largely health sciences and human services university. What should we do? Should we do anything? A couple of you said we should talk it out, we should have forums, and that’s all fine with me.

Q: What is your take on mental health care in the country as well as its relation to gun violence?

Dr. Perman: There’s no question we as a nation inadequately address mental health. It’s underfunded in terms of services provided. We don’t train anywhere near enough mental health practitioners. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The political part of my answer is that if you listened to our national conversation, you would think all the mental health issues in the world are nested in the United States and there are no mental health issues elsewhere. The argument being made, “If only we addressed mental health, we wouldn’t have so many homicides; if we just took care of our mental health problems, we would not have this gun violence issue.” To me, that’s a dodge. There’s no evidence that mental health issues are not prevalent in every other nation of the world. What’s the difference between us and other countries? It’s the availability of the guns.

As a practitioner who still sees patients, there isn’t a clinic that goes by when I don’t yearn for a mental health professional as part of our team, a psychologist or a licensed social worker who would help me treat the patient overall. So, do we need to address mental health? For sure. Will it fix the gun problem? I’m on the other side of that.

Cpl. J.R. Jones, safety awareness officer, UMB Department of Public Safety: Relating to gun violence, one thing UMB offers through the police department is a program called CRASE — Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events. We’ve done this class twice, and if you contact Chief Martinez Davenport through email, we’ll come out to your location and go over actions you can take in reference to an active shooter and what the police do to respond. Anyone is welcome to come to these classes.

Q: A student expressed concern about people smoking outside of the areas on campus where you are allowed to smoke. Her comment was, “On my former campus, you got a ticket for smoking where it was not allowed, so why is it acceptable here?”

Dr. Perman: In terms of best practices, I’d like to learn more about the ticket, because maybe that’s a good idea. This is an unsolved problem on campus. When I was the dean and vice president for clinical affairs at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, we banned smoking on campus, but it moved the smokers off campus and into the neighborhoods, with the neighbors we were trying to cultivate, so we don’t want to create a new problem. There has been a task force working for a long time on this issue. Short answer: The student is right, we haven’t solved the problem. And I’d like to know about the ticket methodology, what university it was, and how it was done.

Q: Interactions like this Q&A remind me we are part of a campus, not only a school. There have been many initiatives on campus to remind everyone of the common denominator and much has been done with the community to identify ourselves as a campus. What else can we do to stress that?

Dr. Perman: A lot of what we’ve done, in terms of trying to make people aware of each other, beyond the boundaries of their school, has been just that: awareness. As for community engagement, I saw there was duplication and overlap in regard to our efforts. I remember sitting in former Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s office several years ago talking about community engagement, and she was very interested in West Baltimore. I said, “Senator, we’ve got at least 200 meaningful initiatives in the community. That’s the good news … and that’s the bad news. How much more impactful would our efforts be if they were coordinated in some way?”

I said that we needed an Office of Community Engagement. And I had to have everyone trust me, because the motive was not to tell people what to do or eliminate anyone’s community engagement efforts. The motive was to let it be organic, for people in a school or a unit to say, “I heard people in that school or that unit are doing something similar to us in the community or are doing something we wish we could do, and how can we collaborate?” And that’s a lot of what’s happening, which is very gratifying. Our job has to be to communicate sufficiently, to make visible what we’re doing, so that people understand the power of collaboration.

Q: Looking at environmental sustainability initiatives, there are things we can do on campus in terms of waste reduction, recycling, and composting. Where do some of these initiatives stand?

Terry Morse, MS, interim associate vice president, facilities and operations: We review ongoing initiatives and are open to suggestions for new ideas regarding sustainability. On waste reduction and recycling, we’re in a pause because of an electrical infrastructure revitalization project on campus. Unfortunately, part of that project is taking out a recycling center so we can build a new electrical substation and recycling center. This is a transition period where we reduce some recycling efforts because we’re losing space where our shredding equipment, etc., is located. We are momentarily taking some of those services out until we build the new substation and supply it with what we need to resume recycling efforts. We have a temporary location where we will continue to do most of the recycling.

As for other sustainability initiatives, we are constantly looking for opportunities to take paved areas and make them green spaces. We’re doing that on an as-we-identify-opportunities basis. We’re constantly rejuvenating our infrastructure — mechanical systems, electrical systems. On these projects, we always look to see what we can do to save energy, to see if there is a more efficient way of dealing with energy consumption problems.

You can pass on your suggestions to the members of the sustainability committee and are welcome to attend our monthly meetings. We have a sustainability website, and the meeting dates and minutes are posted on the site.

Q: Can UMB help lead the way in recognizing the value of pharmacists beyond dispensing roles in the area of team-based health care?

Dr. Perman: The fact is, pharmacy has led the way in regard to team-based health care, and you know teamwork is an area I focus on. Pharmacy was among the first professions to say that students must learn to work in a team. And the rest of us have followed.

In terms of getting the support you want to make a pharmacist a recognized member of the health care team, I’ve learned that you need to approach it in a certain way. If the argument is presented as “We need to be able to practice at the top of our license, because we can do what, say, a physician does just as well or better,” then people will get defensive, and you don’t get support.

If you say, “We want to be a recognized member of a health care team, and we can do our job in a value-added way,” then you get advocacy, then you get people to buy in. I’d be glad to have further discussion with pharmacy leaders, because I think the approach is very important. And it really is an application of common sense about building consensus.

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