Big Ten institutional cooperation cited as a plus for U-Md.

November 20, 2012

For the University of Maryland, jumping from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten Conference will not only scramble the school’s sports schedules and rivalries. It also will plug U-Md. into one of the broadest and deepest academic partnerships in the country.

The Committee on Institutional Cooperation, or CIC, whose members are Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago, promotes an unusual amount of cross-campus ventures in areas such as purchasing equipment, digitizing library collections and hosting scholars.

“They’re the model that everybody in the country looks to,” said Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech, an ACC school. In terms of academic and institutional collaboration, Hincker said, “I don’t think there’s any conference in the country that has what the Big Ten’s got.”

When U-Md. officials announced the conference switch Monday, most attention focused on the likelihood that the school would reap more money each year through television coverage of Big Ten athletic events. But officials cited CIC membership as an academic side benefit.

U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh, a former provost at the University of Iowa, and University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, a former president of Ohio State University, both have firsthand knowledge of the CIC. The committee, founded in 1958, has a staff of 18 and an annual budget of nearly $2 million.

The ACC launched what appears to be a similar effort in 1999, called the ACC International Academic Collaborative, according to the conference’s Web site. It encourages joint ventures in study abroad, doctoral student exchange and other arenas. But the ACC initiative does not appear to be as broad as the CIC’s.

Efforts to reach officials involved with the ACC program were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Kim Wilcox, provost of Michigan State University, who chairs a group of CIC provosts, called CIC “the premier academic collaboration in the country.”

Doctoral students at CIC schools are allowed to spend a year at another CIC campus, without extra charges, if their research requires it. Undergraduates at CIC schools are able to obtain study-abroad slots sponsored by other member schools. CIC schools pool resources for purchasing, information technology and professional development. CIC libraries are working with Google on a project to digitize millions of volumes in their collections. They co-own and operate a fiber-optic network, which CIC officials say enables speedier e-mail.

CIC schools routinely compete against each other for top faculty and students and for research grants, but Wilcox said they cooperate “across all kinds of lines and dimensions.”

There are dozens of multi-college partnerships in the United States, many operating within states. Western Massachusetts, for instance, has the Five College Consortium of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, plus Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges. The consortium enables students to share educational facilities and classes, and enables faculty to work in joint departments and programs.

Many CIC schools share affinities through large size and a Midwestern location. Most, like U-Md., are public land-grant institutions. Exactly how U-Md. will assimilate remains to be seen. Nothing in the move to the Big Ten will prevent U-Md. scholars from working with familiar counterparts at Duke University, the University of Virginia or other ACC schools.

Still, Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said the CIC is known as a leader in the field. “It really does good things,” McPherson said. “People pay attention to it. It makes it easier for institutions with similar issues and opportunities to think through problems together and collaborate on solutions.”

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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