The College Park campus is under siege by some ambitious Baltimoreans who think the university belongs in Baltimore, not Prince George's County.
The issue is economic development, jobs and money. Research universities are the hottest new item in everyone's economic development strategy. They generate the ideas, intellectual energy and talented workers that spawn the companies of the future. Baltimore's city fathers want a major research campus, like College Park's, to stimulate the city's growth. But how can the university serve Baltimore if it's sitting in College Park? The solution is simple: move it.
That's why Gov. William Donald Schaefer is making "reform" of higher education his "top priority" this year. "Reform" is Schaefer's code word for raiding College Park.
And he's not alone. When the Colts left Baltimore in 1984, the city pulled strings to relocate College Park's best football games to Memorial Stadium. Now John Stedman, the dean of Baltimore's sportswriters, asks, coyly, why the entire home schedule can't be played in Baltimore's new stadium.
Likewise, Baltimore's trying to tow College Park's School of Architecture up I-95. "Should Maryland support an architectural school on the fringes of Washington or one that would be a better school if it were located in the state's most important urban center?" asks the Sun.
"Let's move the school to Baltimore where it belongs!" chimes in Archibald Rogers of RTKL, Baltimore's largest architectural firm.
John Ames Seffian, dean of the School of Architecture, is fighting to stay in College Park. "It's a tremendous waste," he says. "We have a brand new building, and we've spent 20 years building up relations with other departments at College Park."
The president of the school's Alumni Association, Thomas Eichbaum, is even more adamant: "The architectural school's become a pawn in a petty regional squabble . . . orchestrated by a few Baltimore architects for business and ego reasons . . ."
Ironically, Baltimore already has an architectural school at Morgan State University. But Baltimore's "Raiders of the Lost Arch" would rather hijack College Park's school than help build a program at a predominantly black local university.
"Gov. Schaefer doesn't really know higher education," says Del. Nancy Kopp (D-Montgomery County), a leading education expert. "Most of what he knows is from reading the Baltimore Sun. That concerns me." And well it should.
The Sun sees Schaefer as the governor of Baltimore: "What Baltimore City needs from the state government in Annapolis is simply all the support it can get -- financially, morally and politically. That was the whole point behind the successful campaign to make Schaefer the first Baltimore mayor ever to move directly into the governor's chair."
And Schaefer hasn't disappointed them. His heart and home remain in the city. His appointments and programs primarily benefit Baltimore.
And the new governor is moving whole departments of state government (the Department of Economic and Community Development; the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services) into the city to boost its economy.
Relocating the University of Maryland is Schaefer's newest challenge. He's assigned his top staff people to the project and made Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg his point man.
The plan is to consolidate most of Baltimore's scattered college and university campuses into a supercampus that "would equal College Park within the UM system," in the Sun's words.
Then there would be two rival "flagship" campuses, College Park and Baltimore, competing for already-scarce state funding.
Under a strong pro-Baltimore governor and intimidated legislature, the Baltimore campus would flourish and College Park would suffer.
Or, as the Sun puts it, "the clear winner in such a consolidation would be the city of Baltimore and its people."
Schaefer and Steinberg, Baltimore's fast-talking tin men, are peddling their university "reform" as harmless and cost-effective. "We will not jeopardize any campus in this state, it will be a win, win situation."
But D.C. area leaders smell a rat.
"The state simply can't support two flagship universities with the quality of College Park," says Harvey Kushner, chairman of Maryland's High Technology Council. "We can't afford it, we can't get the research base."
"It strikes me as an expensive attempt to undo geography," says Sen. Howard Denis (D-Montgomery County). "If the stadium issue was the tip of the iceberg, this education proposal is the iceberg itself!"
"A lot of the problem has been manufactured by the Baltimore Sun," says Del. Timothy Maloney (D-P.G. County). "The Sun would better serve the state by taking up the cause of College Park."
Del. Kopp, University President John Toll and others are trying to persuade the governor that Maryland's university system can be improved without leveling College Park.
They should remind Schaefer of his election-night promise: "To the people over there in Montgomery County and Prince George's County, we are going to keep you strong. We're going to help you with roads and schools and keep that economy up over in those areas over there."
Schaefer can best keep that pledge by working to make the University of Maryland one of the nation's top institutions right where it is -- in College Park.
-- Blair Lee was a chief lobbyist for Montgomery County in Annapolis. He is now director of corporate relations for the Lee Development Group.