Chancellor Kirwan Remarks to Board of Regents on UMCP-UMB Merger Study

Comments to BOR on the Merger Report

December 9, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

The Board has before it a draft of the Report, responding to the General Assembly’s request for the Board of Regents to study the advantages and disadvantages of merging UMCP and UMB into a single institution.

This report is the result of an extensive process that the BOR has led over the past 6 months, a process involving hundreds of faculty, staff and students from across the USM, two public hearings, testimony from four national higher education experts, and extensive interviews with community leaders and elected officials.  In addition, the BOR also received scores of letters from interested citizens, weighing in with their perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages of a merger.

I will briefly summarize the process and the contents of the report.

As you are well aware, the study was driven by a plan, which the BOR approved this past June.  That plan identified 12 questions or issues that needed to be addressed in assessing the advantages and disadvantages of a merger. These questions included:

1.      What advantages and disadvantages would merging UMB and UMCP into a single institution have for UMB and UMCP and their ability to carry out their respective missions?

2.      What impact would the merger of UMB and UMCP have on the other institutions in the System and their ability to develop and carry our out their own mission-related activities, as well as those of the System as a whole?

3.      What impact, immediate and long term, would a merger of UMB and UMCP into a single institution have on the economy and quality of life in their surrounding communities and regions, including their attractiveness to donors and alumni, and the reputations they enjoy among federal agencies and business leaders?

To provide the BOR with perspectives on these issues, we formed several workgroups consisting of faculty, staff and students.  During the initial phase, the workgroups were drawn from the two institutions, UMB and UMCP, and they were asked to first define and then address and assess the advantages and disadvantages, the potential risks and benefits, of a merger from the UMCP and UMB perspectives.  In the second phase, teams from across the USM were created to assess the issues from the perspective of the USM as a whole as well as the impact of a merger on the ability of higher education to meet the needs of the state.

Some of the advantages identified by the workgroups were the beneficial impact increased collaboration between these two research powerhouses could have in biomedical and bioscience research.  It is generally recognized that one of, if not the most important area of research today is at the interface between the medical and biosciences on the one hand and the physical and engineering sciences on the other hand.  Merger could lead to greater collaboration and greater results, not only in these areas but in economic development and technology transfer as well. A merger could also lead to increased joint development of academic programs in areas such as bio-engineering, public health, law and public policy to name a few.

But, as the groups pointed out, a merger also has disadvantages and carries some substantial risks.  As was noted, the record on mergers in higher education and in other sectors is mixed at best.  Some cited a failure rate as high as 80%.  In the case of this potential merger, it was pointed out that the two institutions have widely different cultures…one is driven by a large undergraduate population, a heavy focus in the arts and humanities and on basic research.  The other is almost entirely engaged in graduate professional education with a great emphasis on clinical research.  The distance between the two institutions, with congestion increasing travel time between the two campuses almost monthly, was also a concern.  Experts who have studied mergers point out that it takes years of intense effort to complete a merger and unify governance, administrative, and financial systems.  The work groups expressed concern that the bureaucratic effort to implement a merger could be distracting and divert the institutions from the important work they are currently doing and impede the impressive trajectory of progress both institutions currently enjoy. 

From the perspective of the other institutions, concerns were raised that a merger would destroy the balance that currently exists within the USM and compromise the ability of the system as a whole to succeed in meeting the goals of USM Strategic Plan, which are so tightly aligned with the needs and priorities of the state.  This is an important point because one of the things that came through consistently in many interviews with leaders from around the state is how much support there is for the USM and its institutions and our collective efforts to address the needs of the state, all working together in a highly coordinated manner under the direction of the Board of Regents.

Comments from the larger community about the merger were mixed. Some strongly supported a merger. But, many did not, especially in the Baltimore region. Indeed, many saw merger as a very divisive issue.

One of the work groups was also asked to consider if there were alternatives to a formal merger that would capture most of the advantages of a merger without incurring some of the significant risks.  From this consideration, emerged the concept, tentatively named the University of Maryland Strategic Alliance, that would create a lean and nimble administrative structure to develop and support many of the kinds of beneficial collaborations envisioned through a merger but without incurring the excessive overhead of unifying the two large and somewhat incompatible bureaucracies of the two institutions.

As the report documents, in order to reach its conclusions, the Board developed a set of six guiding principles as a means of assessing the voluminous input from the workgroups, the testimony at the public hearings and the interviews with community and elected officials.  These principles are

  1. Maintain alignment between the education and economic development policy goals of the State and the priorities of USM as expressed in its strategic plan.
  1. Optimize the ability of USM to address State goals within the resources available to it.
  1. Increase the level of collaboration between UMCP and UMB—and among all USM institutions—to maximize education, research, and service opportunities.
  1. Enhance the potential of UMCP and UMB to perform at the level of their respective aspirational peer institutions.
  1. Preserve the commitment to excellence, access, and completion across USM, as a system of complementary institutions with distinct missions.
  1. Ensure an organizational and governance structure within USM that best enables USM to advance the quality of its institutions, respond to the needs of the State and its communities, and be accountable to the State for the effective and efficient stewardship of its resources.

Based on its careful considerations and driven by these guiding principles, the Board has concluded that an Alliance, along the lines described in the report, is a far better concept and construct than a traditional merger.  The Alliance would be a much more flexible and focused enterprise that could be created more quickly and drive the kind of collaboration a merger might promote, while avoiding the bureaucratic distraction and more rigid structures a merger would create. The Alliance could immediately build on and expand the collaboration and joint research already under way between the two institutions in Shady Grove, at UMB’s Bio Park and on the College Park campus. The Board sees the Alliance as the kind of 21st Century model of collaboration that is the right organizational structure for the fast changing, challenging fiscal environment we live in today.  The report calls for the two presidents to work with me to develop the Alliance concept in full and report back to the BOR in March.  Finally, as the report notes, the BOR sees this effort as the first step in developing the means for much greater collaboration among institutions across the system, not just between UMB and UMCP.

While embracing the Alliance concept, I think we also need to thank the General Assembly and President of the Senate Mike Miller, in particular, for raising the issue of greater collaboration and synergy between USM’s flagship and its founding institution.  It is clear that the study President Miller requested has led to a very, very positive and exciting outcome that will benefit the institutions, the state and the students we serve.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Board, this completes my summary.  Before I turn matters back to the Board for its consideration and action on the report, I would like to call on the two presidents Wallace Loh and Jay Perman to make a few remarks.

Thank you Wallace and Jay. 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Board, I would be remiss if I did not note and thank the hundreds of faculty, staff and students from across the USM and in the system office who have devoted countless hours in support of this study.   My brief summary, and indeed the full Merger Study Report, cannot adequately convey the time, thought, and care so many have given to this effort.  They deserve our heartfelt thanks but unfortunately they are too numerous in number for me to recognize individually.  The appendices to the report identify many of these people.  They all deserve our heartfelt thanks. 

There are few people, however, whose contributions were so critical that they do deserve special mention.  They include Ann Wylie, Provost at College Park, and Bruce Jerrell, Associate Dean of the Medical School.  Their leadership of the Purple Workgroup and their contributions throughout the process were absolutely indispensible.  The two presidents -Wallace Loh and Jay Perman - where highly cooperative and provided strong leadership in shaping and executing the study.  In the System Office, Anthony Foster and Joe Vivona were the dynamic duo who conceptualized much of the study plan and oversaw the efforts of the workgroups.  And, finally, Anne Moultrie developed and executed a very effective communication plan throughout the process.   These seven deserve special kudos from all of us.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719