"UMBC: A controversy before it was a school"

First in a series
Retriever (Volume 16, Number 4)
September 21, 1981
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The University of Maryland Baltimore County was enmeshed in controversy before it was built. Questions of Maryland's higher education priorities along with concerns about where a second University of Maryland undergraduate campus could best serve the public were of major concern to state officials as well as the general

In 1955, a series of studies were started concerning higher education in Maryland. Their objective was to find acceptable options to absorb the growing college age population produced by the post-war "baby boom." There was a general interest in upgrading Maryland's public colleges.

One plan that received a great amount of support was the Curlett Plan. This plan for higher education, approved by the Maryland Legislature, would provide for the upgrading of the former teacher's colleges into growing, academically healthy institutions. The plan also called the State's attention to upgrading the resources of the community colleges and endorsed the opening of more two-year institutions. During 1962-63, the legislature provided money to all of the State's teachers colleges for planning these changes. Salisbury State, Bowie State, and Towson State were given funds for construction. Many people saw these financial commitments as an indication that the Curlett plan would be adopted as the education strategy that would be used.

However, another proposal was presented to the Maryland Legislature concerning higher education, subtitled, "The University of Maryland Bill." Presented and endorsed in 1963 by Senator James E. Pine, the proposal was designed to grant the University of Maryland power to establish branch campuses. Named Legislator of the Year in 1963 by the Maryland Legislative Correspondents Association, Senator Pine attributed this honor largely to his efforts for the passage of the University of Maryland Bill.

Basically, the bill empowered the University to establish branches, one in Baltimore County, one on the Eastern Shore, one in the Central Western Maryland area, and one in the Southern Maryland area.

The rationale for such a plan was based on the increasing enrollment of the College Park campus. In 1963, the combined graduate and undergraduate enrollment of the University of Maryland at College Park was 16,886 and by fall 1967 it was estimated to stand at about 25,000. This frightfully swift increase in enrollment made some people in Maryland Higher Education worry whether College Park could keep pace with the demand for higher education, especially with the expected increases provided from the post-war Baby Boom. It was observed that about one-third of the undergraduates then attending College Park came from the Baltimore Metropolitan area, the largest portion of these coming from Baltimore County. This made Baltimore County one of the primary locations to begin another branch, at least in the eyes of Pine and his supporters.

In planning the new campus in Baltimore County, Pine asserted that the project should begin immediately. He based his urgency on the assumption that it would take at least five years to plan: finance, and construct a new facility, and that any delay would cause overcrowding at College Park and the possible denial of a college education to some qualified Maryland students.

The bill, however did not simply state that the Baltimore County campus should be built, but it also gave strong emphasis on the purpose for which it would serve. As the words of the bill indicate, "It would not only provide the relief which is so necessary for the every increasing number of qualified students, but it would also serve as a nucleus for scientific research and development in this area.

The language of the bill did not stop here, but it went on to more specifically spell out plans for the Baltimore County branch: "Baltimore County is blessed with a number of science based industries which are currently engaged in highly specialized research and development work and a graduate branch of the University would undoubtedly be of great assistance to these industries and would attract new industries into the Metropolitan region."

It was clear that the major portion of the University of Maryland bill was focused on the immediate purpose of constructing a campus in Baltimore County, Pine's home county.

Senator Pine also emphasized other positive aspects of a Baltimore County campus: "I feel this campus is one for which there is great need and its establishment (will) overcome many problems faced by students. Students may commute from within minutes from their home, can receive top flight education, live at home and do all this at a low cost available to the vast majority of the metropolitan population."

When questioned about the future of UMBC, Pine predicted that the size of the Baltimore County branch would equal the size of College Park within the next 15 years. This bill was approved in April 1963 and became law June I, 1964.

Retriever (Volume 16, Number 4) Page 1 Headline


The Conflicts and Controversies

The proposal to expand the University of Maryland did not meet with everyone's approval and especially not the Baltimore Sunpapers'. During the month of September 1963, a series of editorials were run in those papers raising questions about what they perceived as a "go it alone" attitude by the University.

The main criticism of the University of Maryland bill was that it seemed to ignore the state's already established plans for development of higher education in Maryland. The Sun vigorously endorsed sending the planning for the new campus to the newly formed Advisory Council for Higher Education which was formed by the General Assembly.

In the words of the editorial:

"The public may assume that University officials have the plans for the branch campus firmly fixed in their own minds, although the details are far from clear to the public.

Even assuming that the University knows exactly where it is going, its swift pursuit of its own goals smacks of the past situations in Maryland higher education when the University, the teachers colleges, Morgan, and the public junior colleges, were following independent paths into the future and competing at Annapolis for the funds to bring their separate plans to fruitation. Supposedly, it was just the scatteration of policy and purpose that was one of the weaknesses of Maryland higher education and supposedly it was to overcome the weakness and obtain a coordinated program that the General Assembly created an Advisory Council on Higher Education."

The contention that the Sunpapers clearly stated in that editorial conveyed the idea that the Maryland Advisory Council, and not the University of Maryland officials should be deciding what shape the new campus would take:

"The duties of the Advisory Council is set forth by the Maryland legislators are, "to prepare a program for the orderly growth and overall development of the State system for higher education, and to investigate the needs throughout the state for various types of educational programs and to present plans and recommendations for the establishment ands location of new facilities."

This statement challenged whether the University wanted to "play ball" with the rest of the state higher education system by suggesting the issue be turned over to the State body rather than being kept in the hands of University officials. The editorial further implied that the University of Maryland may wish to stay separate from the State and downgrade the council's effectiveness.

"If the legislative wording means anything at all, it is the newly created Maryland Advisory Council for Higher Education that should be studying the question of a university branch in terms not only of college needs throughout the state, but also of how the branch offering will mesh with programs at nearby two year and four-year public colleges. That is what coordination means. For the university to give the appearance of continuing to go it alone would dispel any semblance of sought for coordination and downgrade the Advisory Council before it has had a chance effectively to advise."

This was merely the beginning of the attacks by the Sunpapers. As the plans for the new campus took shape, others followed. The criticisms were not limited to the lack of the Maryland Council on Higher Education participation, but also attacks were waged on what they considered the University's guarded plans for the Baltimore County campus. They also focused upon the many unanswered questions that still remained, one of which being "Where will the new campus actually be located?"

In a September 5, 1963 editorial, this is illustrated:

"University officials apparently are wedded to the idea of panning a branch to the north of the city and they indicate that they have some definite ideas concerning the kind of branch they think should be established. So far, however, the public does not know what these ideas are. What sort of campus is needed and where it will be located depends in no small measure on what kind of branch is decided upon. Will it be designed primarily for day students or dormitory students? Will it be mainly for undergraduates, or should a balanced university program be provided? It would be premature to select a site for the second campus without full public discussion of such questions, for at some point, the public, the legislature, and others concerned with higher education in Maryland must participate in answering the questions along with the university officials."

It is not clear why the Sunpapers took such strong stand against the University's actions. Some sources say it had been a long term editorial policy for the papers to do so. Some evidence indicated that they had their biases, but whatever those biases were, the action of University of Maryland officials gave them the opportunity to raise even more serious criticisms concerning the new campus.

Continue to part two, "Regents, State battle over site"
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