COLLEGE PARK – The Universities of Maryland in College Park and Baltimore would continue to lose opportunities if the institutions remain separated, the former president of the College Park campus said.
The merger would be a win-win, said C. Dan Mote, who is credited with moving UMCP into the top ranks of research universities nationally. And, he said, it is necessary for the institutions to remain effectively competitive in the world, where there is an increase in multi-disciplinary studies among students.
Mote spoke Friday at a forum hosted by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents on a plan to merge the Baltimore and College Park institutions. It is the third forum on the proposal, which originated with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert.
Feedback has been mixed at the forums, with both College Park forums mainly supportive of bringing the two campuses together. The Baltimore discussion was more critical of the merger.
Comments in writing and from the forums will be reviewed before the Dec. 15 deadline for the regents to report back to the General Assembly.
William T. Wood, a member of the University of Maryland, Baltimore Foundation Inc., said the benefits from the merger would be great.
“The primary question is not what’s in the best interest of Baltimore, or what’s in the best interest of College Park, but what impact it will have on the students, the state and the citizens.”
Voluntary cooperation would certainly be preferred over a mandatory merger, Wood said, because forced mandates usually don’t work.
Much of the support and criticism about the merger has been about the medical, sciences and engineering programs, but Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of UMCP’s College of Arts and Humanities said, “There would be great collaboration between the arts and humanities program at College Park and the law and medical schools in Baltimore” where students and faculty will be able to discuss issues like ethics or philosophy.
Dill also said a merger would provide undergraduates with a smooth transition into graduate schools, especially for arts and humanities majors, many of whom, according to Dill, go on to study law and social policy.
“A merger would attract those students to stay with the institution and keep us competitive with other schools.”
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, made the one-hour trip to College Park as a symbol of collaboration between the two campuses. Downtown Baltimore and UMB have a “symbiotic relationship,” he said, adding that Baltimore is a top economic generator for the state.
Collaboration between the two campuses would be welcome and beneficial, but Fowler said any idea of a merger should be off the table.
Fowler’s concern was whether one campus would become the ultimate decision-maker for the institution as a whole.
“Decisions about a campus need to be done locally,” and those decisions affect the community, he said. “Neither campus should be at risk of losing.”
Teja Rau, a graduate student at UMB’s school of social work, was concerned about the effects it would have on students facing tuition increases, poor job prospects and steep student loan debt.
While she said she was fortunate not to have any outstanding student loans, her colleagues do.
“A merger won’t assist graduates without job prospects and student loans,” Rau said.