Merger of UMD Campuses Needs Longer Look

There are clear advantages to merging the UMB and UMCP campuses, but the whole university system needs balanced support, especially the historically black campuses

STAKEHOLDERS IN UMD MERGER URGE CAUTION

/PM BlogSpace Report/ The impending merger of the University of Maryland campuses in College Park and Baltimore has raised questions about its effect on the state’s historical black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

It’s just one more “wait a minute” in a process that has seemed an unstoppable freight train, backed by Senate President Mike Miller and embedded in a bill that has real legs in the General Assembly.

A few days ago a former student regent and a student body president from two of those schools raised a caution flag in a letter to The Sun.

“…this would come at great risk and detriment to the other college and universities in Maryland, especially, the four historically black colleges (Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore). Currently, engaged in a lawsuit against the state, we have been victims of systematic and chronic under-funding for decades,” wrote Leslie Hall and Richard Lucas, who are, respectively, a former USM student regent (from Bowie State) and Bowie State University’s student government president.

Slow down, recommended The Sun earlier in an editorial March 6, to make sure the merger doesn’t have the inadvertent side effect “raised … by regent James T. Brady, and that is the potential for the combined institution to suck resources and attention away from the system's other schools.” The Sun’s immediate concern was the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a stellar success story under its president, Freeman Hrabowski. Hrabowski had said to the Sun editorial board in a meeting that his university’s galvanic improvement in getting women and minorities into tech careers had been accomplished without the extra resources lavished on College Park and UMB through an initiative called MPower. He worried a continued disparity would weaken UMBC’s effort.

Likewise, Hall and Lucas are concerned that an excessive focus on the joint flagship operation can only detract from the already meager resources devoted to the HBCUs, especially the two in Baltimore. They decry the “deliberate disenfranchisement and discrimination coupled with HBCUs' mission of admitting, training and serving a population of students that are often admitted performing on remedial levels…” The mission of the HBCUs, they argue, is inherently cost-intensive but essential.

Though the effects of the merger would be overwhelmingly positive to UMD’s educational mission, the effect on Baltimore’s neighborhoods, too, might leap over the “fine line between community empowerment and community gentrification” that has been achieved so far, Hall and Lucas suggest.

Like The Sun, the two Bowie State alums argue that a longer period of study is necessary. The system chancellor, Robert Caret – who should know something about these matters – also suggests a one-year study by the regents before they pull the trigger on this complex move.

The casual observer who notes that students in College Park are already bingeing on bicycles to get around between one class and the next on an increasingly sprawling campus wonders if the transportation questions have been sufficiently considered, too. The connector for these campuses is MARC – should the “growth and investment plan” that will see a four-track MARC system between Baltimore and the DC area and limited-stop express service by 2020 be accelerated to meet the needs of the merger?

There’s no question that the merger should take place in some fashion. Right now the UM flagship campus has neither a medical school nor a law school – both are “out there” at the Baltimore campus and both need to be integrated firmly into the new configuration. But this will be a complex operation that should not be done on the cheap. We are seeing the effects of a Metrorail system in the capital region that was built with only two tracks. We will (eventually) see the effects of a Purple Line whose streetcars have to stop for traffic lights at major thoroughfares, for lack of overpasses. This merger, everyone agrees, is a good idea. But what happens if it’s not done right?

The effects of the merger on the other campuses in the system, and especially on the HBCUs, is a major concern, and people who ought to know are saying we need a longer, more deliberate look at those.