What the next U-Md. president can do

By Eric C. Olson
College Park
Sunday, June 27, 2010

The August departure of C.D. Mote Jr. after 12 years as president of the University of Maryland is obviously a major moment for the institution. But it means just as much to the surrounding community, and it's important that the person who is chosen to succeed him embrace a number of ideas that will move the university and community forward together.

Local residents need a university president who truly becomes part of our Prince George's County community and who shares in our efforts to increase opportunities at the elementary, secondary and higher education levels. We also want a partner in building an even stronger environment for job creation, energy efficiency and investment. Finally, residents seek redevelopment that would transform College Park into a more bustling "college town," with all the unique restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and arts and culture of other major university communities.

Here are six points that the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland ought to consider when it chooses a new leader for U-Md.:

-- The next president will inherit a university that has risen dramatically in academic standing and fundraising under Mote. First and foremost, the president must have the skills to keep this vibrant academic culture strong.

-- The Purple Line, proposed by Maryland as a light-rail system connecting New Carrollton to Bethesda, is a critical public transportation project projected to take thousands of cars off the region's roads. It will connect with Metro's Orange and Green lines and two spurs of the Red Line, providing a convenient link from the university to job and population centers in the region. The next president must embrace this transit opportunity and champion its coming to campus.

-- The next president will need to seize upon the campus's setting in our thriving metropolitan region. It would be a mistake to think of the campus as suburban. The successful candidate should pursue sound urban planning principles, including advocating for rebuilding Route 1 (College Park's "Main Street") into a safer boulevard; pursuing smart-growth redevelopment such as the proposed East Campus project; and envisioning the campus's transportation future as a model for public transit, bicycles and pedestrians rather than one dominated by cars.

-- The new president should be committed to working with the Prince George's school system to harness the resources of the university to benefit our young people and to provide opportunities for university students to engage in community activities. Already, the university and its students participate in numerous collaborations involving mentoring, teaching and other community service. But those relationships can be furthered.

-- The president should focus on prevention of and serious penalties for the dangerous and destructive behavior that too often has followed big sporting events in the past decade. Creative solutions are desperately needed. To date, the university has not adequately addressed this embarrassing problem.

-- There are effects -- both in real money and in the currency of public trust -- when the university buys property or considers altering long-standing financial arrangements with the community. Property purchased by the university comes off the local tax rolls, and it is important that payments in lieu of taxes be part of any university land acquisition. Other arrangements with local governments to help offset campus impacts should not be altered.

There will be many opportunities to enhance the school's relationship with the larger community in College Park and Prince George's, and I urge the new president to make these collaborations a high priority. We have much potential to increase jobs, enhance public transportation, create a dynamic smart-growth environment and build on programs that develop students into strong community-oriented leaders and mentors. Working together toward these common goals, we can make our community an even stronger place to live, work and learn.

Eric C. Olson (D-College Park) is a member of the Prince George's County Council.

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