The same university that worried about how a light rail line could endanger its students as they walk between classes is now looking to turn I-95 into a primary campus thoroughfare.
Maryland Senate President Mike Miller wants to merge the University of Maryland’s flagship campus in College Park with the professional schools at the University of Maryland Baltimore. It is not clear where this idea came from, but in a message to the UMCP community, President Wallace Loh appeared to be dutifully following Miller’s request to make it so. Members of the university senate, which plays an important role in campus governance, reported that this proposal came out of the blue. Reporting by the Gazette and others indicates that the proposal has the support of Governor O’Malley, and describes some of the rationale for the proposal.
The motivations quoted so far by the media are not very compelling. One oft-cited fact is that the combined universities would have research expenditures of around $1 billion per year, and would rank as high as 10th in the nation. Both universities have a good number of strong programs. The implication is that this will lead to yet more research dollars—hence, jobs—and also more prestige for the university. This is not very persuasive. Is there any evidence that individual research grant proposals from College Park will be more favorably reviewed because of the merger. Not very likely.
And will potential students or faculty view the UMCP more favorably because of its ranking in terms of research expenditures? Let’s see: according to National Science Foundation data, the University of California at Davis has more research dollars than the University of California at Berkeley. The reason is that Davis has a medical school, whereas Berkeley does not. Does this mean that students are streaming to Davis instead of Berkeley? Not exactly.
What would this mean for College Park? It’s hard to know, but one consequence is that the university administration would devote much of its attention in the coming years to integrating the two very different universities, and after that the President and his staff would have to constantly divide their attention between College Park and Baltimore. Instead of paying attention on working to improve the campus and city environment through projects like East Campus.
The merger of the two universities is far from a done deal, and we are promised much study and consultation over the coming months. We hope that this will be more than a foregone conclusion, and that the supporters of the proposal will come up with some justifications that actually make sense.
But to get the ball rolling, ask youreslf which of the following will most help the University of Maryland, and College Park, to rise in prominence (more than one answer allowed):
(a) Have a School of Dentistry that is an hour’s drive away.
(b) Have a president who devotes less of his time to the flagship campus.
(c) Work aggressively to improve the campus and city environment.
(d) Build an undergraduate recruitment website that is not an embarrassment.
(e) Learn that prestige is measured in across-the-board strength, not in research dollars (e.g., University of Virginia is the #2 public university in the US News & World Report rankings, but comes in around #49 among publics in terms of R&D spending)
(f) Anything else. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section.