COLLEGE PARK – The idea of merging two University of Maryland institutions — College Park and Baltimore — received a largely positive response Wednesday at a campus forum hosted by UMCP President Wallace D. Loh and Provost Ann Wylie.
“Collectively, we can create a model to move the state in a way economic impact is larger than anyone realizes,” said Dr. Robert S. Gold, dean of the School of Public Health, at the event.
The Maryland General Assembly in April ordered the University System of Maryland Board of Regents to study the pros and cons of merging the two universities, saying the two institutions are complementary and that joining them would push the merged institution into the top ranks of the best schools in the world.
The regents must submit a final plan about the merger by Dec. 15.
Wylie, who is a co-chairman of two task groups on the merger study, said the individual academic programs will continue as they are, but one idea about the merger is that it could create enhanced opportunities for undergraduate seniors to collaborate with the graduate programs in Baltimore.
“It was discussed whether a merger would change the perception of Maryland as a single institution. If it did, and we were viewed as a more powerful institution, (the merger) would enhance the value of students’ degrees,” Wylie said.
Carol Rogers, professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism questioned whether alternatives to a merger were being considered.
Wylie couldn’t respond with specifics because the study is on-going. She did, however, say the task groups were “looking for something other than a full-blown merger” to allow the institutions to maintain some autonomy or identity while appearing to be a single institution.
Few students attended the forum, but David Lieb, a sophomore biology major and Student Government Association member from Middletown, said he was there because he has a “vested interest in the process” as a pre-med student.
Lieb asked how soon the changes from the merger would affect students, but Loh pointedly said, “If the merger were to take place, it would take many years to implement. It’s not a one or two year operation.”
Although he would not be affected, Lieb said a merger between the two colleges “would be worthwhile. There’s so much to be gained by the merger.”
Josh Birch, a senior history and communications major, brought up the issue of student population, its effects on the school’s ability to meet student needs and effects on tuition.
Wylie responded that there were no plans to increase enrollment on campus, and any increase in numbers would be a result of combining the population of the two campuses. As for tuition, she said the funds will more than likely come primarily from state resources.
Loh remains neutral on the issue of whether the merger will be good or bad for the university.
“My mind is not made up,” he said. The ultimate decision of whether the merger happens falls on the regents, and a lot of information is required to make that decision.
“We can sit around and debate until hell freezes over about the pros and cons,” Loh said.
Loh used merger of the Chicago and Urbana campuses of the University of Illinois in 1982 as an example, saying the difference between that and Maryland’s merger is politics.
According to Loh, it was the university in Illinois that initiated the merger, whereas in Maryland, the General Assembly mandated the study.
“There are larger statewide issues,” Loh said, including issues like politics and culture adding to the complexity of the merger.
“The issue isn’t to merge, or not to merge. That’s not the question,” Loh said at the end of the forum. The question is figuring out how to “take two very good universities and catapulting them to global excellence.”
The regents will host two other public forums this month: Oct. 21 at the Baltimore campus from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Oct. 28 at College Park from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.