The University of Maryland at I-95

Image via Flickr user eddie.welker

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.

or

(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.

9 thoughts on “The University of Maryland at I-95”

  1. I would prefer if RTCP stuck to redevelopment issues and to say this relates to redevelopment of CP is a stretch – It would be nice to see a project update for all projects along route 1 and a link to the construction webcam for the second View tower

    However, in the interest of reasoned debate – perhaps if the state combined the back office administration of the two entities – ie HR, payroll, accounting/procurement, etc the state could eliminate a lot of redundant administrative functions, save a ton of money, and redeploy that capital to an undergrad recruitment website. You could centralize all of these back office / non-student facing jobs in the columbia area (in reality, with technology being what it is today you could stick it in Bangalore – at a payroll savings of well over 50% – and no one would know the difference )

    I highly doubt any merger would impact the students in college park. dont worry, you wont have to drive to Baltimore to burn things and chant “Hey – you Suck” when we lose to Dook.

  2. I think this would benefit the university overall. Merging would not preclude implementing any of those positive ideas you suggested.

    I’m glad RTCP posted this because it’s the first time I’ve heard about it, but I don’t think merging the schools would go against any of the philosophies that this site promotes.

  3. Thanks for the comments. We see this issue as highly relevant to our main theme of College Park development. Why? Because making CP a great college town is one of the main things that is needed in order to make UMCP a great college. Currently, students, faculty, and staff don’t want to live in CP. Practically all of the great public universities in the country are in places where people would prefer to live (Berkeley, Westwood, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Austin, La Jolla, … the list goes on). If UMCP were to relentlessly pursue this issue, then it could make a big difference. East Campus is just one piece of what is needed. On the other hand, if the shots are being called by the senator from Chesapeake Beach, and if the university sees its future in expanding its Shady Grove campus (“The future of Maryland is in Montgomery County”, says President Loh) and in pretending that merger with UMB will suddenly make this a top university, then progress seems less likely. We often hear that the goal is to be like Berkeley and Michigan. That requires focus. On making College Park the intellectual and scientific hub of the region.

    There may be some excellent reasons for merging the two distant universities. But the ones that have been reported so far are not persuasive. Please do post here if you can think of some good ones!

  4. I fear that if this goes through there could be a renewed push to build the I-95 connector through the USDA BARC.

  5. If President Loh himself spends more than 30 seconds concerned about the undergraduate recruitment website, he has his priorities wrong. I agree that the potential undergrad website is terrible, but fixing that has nothing to do with the president of the university.

  6. I do feel that there are higher priorities than merging the two institutions. What’s the rush? Perhaps this should be considered 5 or 10 years down the road until UMCP has had a chance to build a stronger foundation in reputation and College Park becomes the premier college town in the region. Only then will the merger make more sense. UMCP would have the momentum and the “infrastructure” to attract those top students and faculty. M-Square isn’t even fully built out yet. it would be great if that was complete as well. Right now, there’s nothing to offer any top student or faculty as far as amenaties. Why invite guests to your house and you have nowhere for the to sleep, no food, and no entertainment?

  7. @ Joe.
    Your point sounds straightforward, and my point was partly facetious, but I’d actually disagree with you on what administrators should pay attention to. The university is competing in a national and international marketplace for top students and faculty. And in the current world, its on-line presence is its primary way of communicating its virtues to the world. I know that the university’s top administrators work tirelessly to promote the university and to build its reputation. But anybody who is devoting much of their life to doing that really should be paying attention to the primary ways that outsiders get to see the university. I would bet that website improvements could have a far bigger effect on the university’s ability to reach talented students than would something like a merger with some professional schools in Baltimore. On-line presentation is so important.

  8. Loh’s priorities:

    1. Raise money
    2. Attract research money
    3. Attract grant money
    4. Raise money
    5. Save money
    6. Raise more money
    7. Soon it will be to fire the AD if football and basketball dont get straightened out because they are LOSING MONEY and need to be MAKING MONEY

    Undergrad recruitment im sure doesnt even make his top ten

  9. 8. The only concern Loh would have about undergrads is perhaps crime and keeping them safe etc. Thats about it.

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