Center Maryland Editorial: Growing Bigger is Better for UM

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Five years ago, the University System of Maryland regents rejected joining its College Park flagship enterprise to its high-profile Baltimore professional schools. Yet today, talk of that same consolidation has strong support in the Annapolis State House and among educators.

Why a renewed fervor for connecting the two campuses more closely?

Because it makes so much sense in 2016 to combine these academic and research powerhouses in a “strategic partnership.”

Linking the brain-power of a Big Ten flagship university (9,000 faculty/staff, research funding of $550 million) with Baltimore’s prestigious medical, legal and human services graduate schools (6,300 faculty/staff generating $6 billion in economic activity) is a winner.

It didn’t look that way in 2011. City officials feared the law school would be moved to College Park. Concerns were raised about cultural compatibility. A takeover by the flagship campus was rumored.

Instead of rushing into a forced marriage, the regents wisely created a “strategic alliance” between the two campuses to see if obstacles to cross-pollination could be overcome.

It’s been a big success – and with few bumps in the road.

Along the way, solid research partnerships have formed ($79 million in grants in just three years), some of them leading to breakthrough discoveries and new companies; qualms have dissipated, and economic conditions today make this merger not only sensible but imperative.

That’s especially true for the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), the founding campus of the university in 1807. With a boost from College Park, the Baltimore campus could take a leadership role in creating good-paying jobs and large new business investments that Charm City badly needs.

Indeed, this strategic partnership could make Baltimore a prominent player in the economy of the future, where state-of-the art scientific research leads to home-grown, spin-off companies that turn into tomorrow’s corporate giants.

For that to happen, there must be a “brain meld” between experts on the Baltimore campus in medicine, pharmacology, engineering, and computer sciences and College Park’s superb faculty in bioscience, biotechnology, bioengineering, nano-biotechnology, neurosciences, virtual reality, and data analytics.

Growing bigger is indeed better.

As Maryland slowly moves out of a deep and prolonged recession, it must find new ways to create jobs. The state’s heavy reliance on the federal government as an employment generator can no longer be taken for granted.

That’s where an academic College Park-Baltimore linkage comes into play.

Under legislation promoted in both houses of the General Assembly, there would be a significant new investment in Baltimore:

--  The university system’s chancellor, who oversees a $5 billion academic enterprise, would move his 80-member staff from College Park to downtown Baltimore, most likely placing USM’s new headquarters in the Inner Harbor’s Columbus Center.

--  The two campus presidents would turn to their faculty to develop plans for lowering unemployment in Baltimore through on-the-job skills training, certification and licensing programs for such jobs as lab assistants, computer specialists and medical technicians.

--  A new Center for Advanced Ventures would open in Baltimore City to help turn interdisciplinary proposals and research by university-based entrepreneurs into profitable businesses. The state would initially set aside $3 million each year to assist in commercializing these research ventures.

--  The bills in the state legislature also bar moving any of the UM professional schools out of the city.

It is a win-win for UMB and for the city, but also a win-win for College Park and the rest of Maryland.

Combining the University of Maryland’s superb scientific minds in Baltimore with those in the Washington suburbs is the best way to gain maximum benefit for the entire region in the evolving Information Age.

It’s time to make this strategic partnership a reality.

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