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Partnership between U-Md. and Baltimore campuses is a go

The University of Maryland’s College Park campus. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

When Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said this week he would let a package of bills become law without his signature, he cleared the way for the University of Maryland, Baltimore to unite forces with the flagship University of Maryland campus in College Park.

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At the end of March, the General Assembly approved legislation to create a strategic partnership between the two schools, after revising an initial plan to merge the campuses and consolidate the leadership. Proponents of the union say it would make the university system more prestigious, draw additional grant funding and attract new businesses to Baltimore.

“It enhances our opportunity to compete globally by bolstering our flagship institution,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the legislation. “The economy of the future relies on partnerships. By having the professional school in partnership with our flagship campus, we can only benefit from the research and the economic development that will result.”

Proposed union between U-Md. and Baltimore campuses leaves some worried

The two universities already share resources and programs as a result of a collaboration agreement developed in 2012, an outgrowth of a failed attempt to merge the schools several years ago. College Park is one of the few public flagships without an affiliated medical or law school, both of which the Baltimore campus would provide. Through the University of Maryland: MPowering the State agreement, students at College Park can take three years of undergraduate courses at the campus and three years of classes at the law school in Baltimore.

“This bill enhances our already-strong collaboration with our colleagues at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and will spur significant economic impact throughout the state of Maryland,” University of Maryland College Park spokeswoman Crystal Brown said.

In many ways, the legislation just pumps more money into that collaboration, with the creation of two new centers to spur development and the commercialization of new technology. It carves out $3 million a year for the Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures in Baltimore, and $10 million for the University of Maryland Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Development in College Park. State legislators stretched out the funding for the College Park center over three years to assuage concerns about costs.

“Our two institutions have developed a remarkably successful relationship over the last four years, generating numerous research, educational and public service opportunities,” UMB President Jay A. Perman said. “Now that our alliance has been codified, Marylanders can reap the full benefits of our combined resources to boost the state’s economy, prepare our future leaders and provide service to our communities.”

Perman was initially apprehensive about the legislation when it sought to consolidate the leadership and personnel systems of the two campuses, but he came on board after a series of revisions.

The final legislation includes an additional $4 million to two other state schools — Towson University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a move to gain further support for the proposal. Although the provision increased the budget, state legislators scaled back the university system headquarters’ move from Adelphi to Baltimore to lower costs. Instead of having all employees relocate at once, the core staff initially will make the move.

Given the cost of the partnership, legislators worried that Hogan might veto the bill in an effort to tighten state spending. But the governor chose not to block the legislation and some 20 other bills the Democrat-controlled legislature sent to him, despite his opposition.

A joint steering committee comprised of representatives from both campuses will have to work through the logistics of the partnership. There are no apparent cost savings in the legislation, though it does call on the schools to look for potential savings in procurement, human resources and information technology services.