"Urban campus site shunned"

Third in a series
Retriever (Volume 16, Number 6)
October 5, 1981
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Underlying the question of where the new university should be located, the question of Baltimore City arises. Mayor Theodore McKeldin's movement to have the new campus in the city had a major influence on the new school and that proposal deserves special attention.

There were many critics to the downtown site for the University's new campus. Senator Pine complained that there would be no space for parking, no room for athletic fields nor any land for the other facilities which could be constructed in the county. He states, "We're not planning for just now, but for the next 40 years. President Wilson Elkins just gave a flat "no" saying that the University was not interested in having a "skyscrapper campus."

The city still was very willing to accommodate a downtown campus. Especially since it was believed a downtown campus would greatly aid Baltimore's revitalization program.

Baltimore City's urban renewal agency offered to have a new site cleared for a downtown campus by October 1965. Richard L Steiner, agency director, stated on October 2, 1963, "We could give them any site they wanted, provided it was presently a blighted area, and 1 would think we could offer them as much land as they would need."

Steiner did except some criticism of a city campus, but also stressed some positive aspects of an urban campus. "We would knock ourselves out to make it successful," he commented. "'The campus would be tremendous in the revitalization of downtown. Many cities have downtown campuses. Columbia, Yale, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania are all downtown." He did, however, caution about having unreasonable expectations for an urban campus. "The campuses don't include golf courses and that sort of thing, we couldn't give them another College Park."

The question of location was a key factor in deciding a site and Mr. Steiner believed that an urban campus would be accessible and to more people than the proposed county sites. "A university should be accessible to as many people as possible without driving automobiles and it is easier to get downtown than to any place also in the area."

McKeldin, Steiner, and other supporters of a Baltimore campus were convinced that an urban campus could serve the state and the city as well as any other location. More importantly, however, the city's enthusiasm nullified the earlier contention that city land would be harder to obtain, since urban campus supporters promised access to as much land just about anywhere they wanted.

However, those opposing a downtown site, like former Governor Spiro T. Agnew, who was then Baltimore County Executive believed that in time the city would be a poorer site and the county would prove to be the best choice. "Agnew said he was amazed at Mayor McKeldin's suggestion that the University build its campus in the city overlooking the Harbor. The movement of population is northward, observed Agnew, and by the year 2000, the county expects to exceed the city in population. A city site would then be less accessible to most people than Ivy Hills," the Sun reported.

Another noteworthy opponent of the city site was Senator Pine, author of the proposal that would place the campus in the county. Pine was extremely critical of the inner city proposed. "There would be no place for parking, no room for athletic fields nor any land for the other facilities which could be constructed in the county," he said. "We're planning not for just now, but for the next 40 years. How would they get there?"

Ultimately the debate ended with the new campus located in Catonsville. This location left neither side completely satisfied. University President Elkins expressed dissatisfaction with the Catonsville site, because he wanted it more visible from the beltway and not so close to College Park. Other supporters of the Ivy Hill site were also disappointed. Spring Grove was, however, state owned land which seemed to make it the best choice in light of the controversy.

Supporters of the urban site had succeeded only in calling question to the University's intention for the new university. This was done with the help of the Sunpaper's editorials. They were still, however, left without a city campus to stimulate urban renewal.

A final opinion on the question of location for the University's second campus was raised by the American Institute of Architects and deserves some attention. The Institute deplored the decision to locate the new campus in Catonsville rather than in downtown Baltimore. The choice, the architects said, is contrary to national education opinion, a November 19, 1963 edition of the Sun reported. The article also expressed other controversial opinions in regard to the selection of a suburban site. The following, are excerpts from that article:

The American Institute of Architects yesterday deplored the decision to locate a new campus of the University of Maryland in Catonsville rather than downtown Baltimore....

In a letter to Governor Tawes, the architects registered their regret that there has never been a report of studies of alternative educational concepts with statistics and data showing clearly the best possible course of action....

Choosing the Catonsville site after studying other county locations west of Cockysville and at Towson, the University's Board of Regents and the State Board of Public Works brushed aside pleas to reconsider further expansion of present campus in downtown Baltimore....

The real issue we feel is not between Catonsville or Towson, but between the suburbs and the center city.

Later in the article, the architects accused the Regents of trying to avoid the challenge of an urban campus. "Henry Steel Commager, the historian was quoted as saying, 'Today it is the urban university that most faithfully represents higher education in America.'"

This final comment ended the debate of Maryland's second campus' location. The Maryland Board of Regents, and Senator James M. Pine had won a Baltimore County location to open in fall 1966.


Continue to part four, "UMBC opened its doors to 700"
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