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U-Md. joins Big Ten’s academic network

Students and faculty at the University of Maryland have access to 4 million volumes in the libraries of College Park.

But by fall, they will also have borrowing privileges for more than 90 million volumes in the libraries of 14 other prominent universities in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. That’s one of the side benefits of U-Md.’s decision to move its athletics from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten starting in 2014.

Through the switch, the university also is joining a Big Ten affiliate called the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, based in Champaign, Ill. Founded in 1958, the CIC is regarded in many quarters as the nation’s broadest and most effective intercollegiate academic network.

Essentially, the CIC comprises the Big Ten schools plus the University of Chicago, a founding member of the athletic conference that left it decades ago.

CIC officials paid a visit to College Park last week to plan the academic partnership, which becomes official in July.

There is much more to it than libraries. Students from CIC schools are able to share overseas study programs, access to laboratories, and specialized courses in foreign languages and other topics.

For example, Indiana University recently offered first-year Dutch, intermediate Mongolian and introductory Zulu to other CIC schools. The University of Michigan reciprocated with second-year Tibetan, modern Korean literature and first-year Czech.

Plans call for U-Md. students to access this expanded curriculum by 2014.

CIC faculty are plugged into a common data network that seems to get bigger and faster all the time, allowing the rapid transfer of massive quantities of information, extremely valuable for cooperative research.

Just as important, educators say, the leaders of various wings of the academy — libraries, information technology, research laboratories, etc. — all get together frequently with CIC colleagues to swap ideas, plan joint initiatives and, not incidentally, hunt for ways to save money.

Librarians are seeking to pare volumes from their collections that are duplicated several times over within the CIC, freeing up precious space in various campus libraries for other purposes. Many shared volumes are now housed in a print repository at Indiana University.

U-Md. Provost Mary Ann Rankin will attend her first CIC provosts meeting June 3 in Chicago.

With “15 institutions that are more or less alike, it helps us not reinvent the wheel constantly,” said Brian D. Voss, chief information officer for U-Md.

“We want to create a coherent community for knowledge creation that is effective and efficient,” said Patrick O’Shea, U-Md.’s vice president for research. “Size matters for knowledge creation.”

Which raises questions: Why is the CIC limited to just the 13 current members and the two that are incoming (U-Md. and Rutgers)? And why don’t other athletic conferences have an in-depth academic counterpart?

“It takes a long time to build trust and infrastructure,” said Barbara McFadden Allen, the CIC’s executive director. “Partnerships are difficult to sustain over time.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.



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