USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman's Report to Board of Regents (May 1 Meeting)

Baltimore, MD (May 1, 2020)

Chair Gooden, regents, thank you for your leadership during this time of great challenge. Thank you for your deep commitment to the University System and to its students, faculty, and staff. I thank the leaders of our universities and regional centers, whose response to this crisis has been marked not only by incredibly hard work, but by a spirit of collaboration and compassion that inspires me every day.

It’s often said that adversity doesn’t build character. It reveals it. I’ve seen the character of this University System revealed in the 10 weeks since we last gathered together in person, and I’m deeply proud to serve alongside you for the people of Maryland.

Today’s board meeting looks very different than we anticipated. We should have just finished a breakfast honoring our Board of Regents Faculty Award recipients. Instead, we’ll reschedule the ceremony so that we can celebrate these distinguished faculty members in the way they deserve. We should have held this meeting at Bowie State University, and heard from its outstanding leader, BSU President Aminta Breaux, but instead we look at each other through computer screens.

Still, I think it’s important that we maintain—to the extent possible—some sense of normalcy; that we carry on with our traditional approach to this meeting. Because, as I’ve said time and again—the USM is open. Faculty are teaching, students are learning, employees are working, research is ongoing. Yes, the education is at a distance, the jobs are being done remotely, the research is limited in scope. But the fact that we’re working differently doesn’t mean we’re not working as hard as we ever have.

And so, after a brief update on our COVID-19 activities, I’ll provide a brief “traditional” report, highlighting each of our institutions. You have my written report—which will be posted online—so I won’t repeat it in full here.

I’ll start with our COVID-19 response. Early on, as this crisis was developing, we undertook many significant steps: Recalling USM students studying abroad and supporting our international students; issuing restrictions on group gatherings and employee travel; and then, notably, transitioning to distance learning for students and telework for employees. What followed, of course, was the difficult decision to postpone in-person commencement ceremonies.

Soon thereafter, we developed an approach to refund room & board, as well as certain student fees.

We focused our attention on the mental and emotional well-being of our students; supported them with technology for remote learning; and directed money to emergency funds so that we could help those who are struggling financially. We restricted most university research unrelated to the novel coronavirus. And then, with remote instruction underway, most universities moved to pass/fail grading and to test-optional admissions.

Throughout this process, we worked closely with the Governor, supporting his administration in fighting this pandemic. How? By fabricating and donating personal protective equipment, by making our facilities and equipment available for state use, by negotiating the early graduation of certain health professions students, and by inviting our retired health sciences alumni to rejoin the workforce.

All of this—and much more—was done collaboratively, working as a System. All of it was done to protect the safety of our students and employees, and to continue serving Maryland as a powerful public good.

Earlier this week, I highlighted two of our most recent actions. I’ve convened a Return to Campus Advisory Group that will outline all of the conditions we’ll need to meet if students can come back to campus this fall. The group will develop a comprehensive planning template for that return—with student, employee, and community health as our foremost priority.

Meanwhile, the COVID Research and Innovation Task Force is coordinating the USM’s coronavirus R&D response, helping our institutions leverage one another’s expertise and assets, securing funding for this work, and engaging federal agencies, business, industry, and policymakers at this critical moment in time, so that we might advance and scale our COVID-19 solutions.

As I said earlier, the good work of our USM institutions continues despite this pandemic, and I’ll highlight the work of our universities now.

I congratulate Bowie State University President Aminta Breaux on being named to The Daily Record’s list of Maryland’s Top 100 Women. Joining President Breaux on that list is the University of Maryland Eastern Shore President Heidi Anderson.

Presidents Breaux and Anderson were just notified this week that their universities were named among the country’s Second Chance Pell Experiment institutions, a program that extends Pell grant eligibility to incarcerated Americans.

I’m also delighted to announce that UMES has received accreditation confirmation to offer its Physician Assistant program. Congratulations, President Anderson.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore has been pivotal to Maryland’s COVID response. In a partnership with the state, the School of Medicine is developing a large-scale COVID-19 testing initiative using robotic platforms. This project will ultimately enable 20,000 tests per day, critical to Maryland’s mitigation efforts.

The University of Maryland Global Campus has become an indispensable resource for universities within and outside the USM, given its long leadership in online education. UMGC also received a record-breaking $16 million gift—nearly doubling its endowment—whose income is being put to work for student scholarships.

The University of Maryland, College Park has shown tremendous leadership on the COVID front lines. Faculty are keeping Americans informed about the disease and its risks, they’re tracking the virus, and they’re working with regional leaders on their policy response. Plus, faculty and staff are manufacturing essential COVID equipment—such as hand sanitizer, face masks and shields, hands-free door latches.

At the University of Baltimore, the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation will fund need-based scholarships for hundreds of full-time UB students who transfer from community colleges, including active-duty military and veterans. The scholarships will total up to $5 million over five years.

At Coppin State University, incoming President Anthony Jenkins made his first public address to the campus in a virtual town hall, where he outlined his vision for the university. We’ll anticipate welcoming him soon, and I want to again thank President Burnim for his continuing leadership.

At Towson University, faculty from the health professions and health sciences have donated hospital beds and other equipment to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and St. Joseph Medical Center. And Towson senior Marella Schammel, a chemistry major who’s already received national recognition for her undergraduate research, won an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to support her work toward a PhD.

At Salisbury University, the Bosserman Center for Conflict Resolution has been recognized by UNESCO as a Regional Centre of Expertise. Also at Salisbury, Anna Brennan and Jessica Pierce became the university’s first students recognized with the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to students pursuing research careers in science, math, and engineering.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has been an essential COVID resource in its communities, with the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in southern Maryland, IMET in Baltimore, and the Horn Point lab on the Eastern Shore each donating gloves, hand sanitizer, N95 masks, and other equipment to area medical centers.

Several alumni from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County are leading research on COVID-19, including Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who led the NIH team that used the virus’s genetic sequence to develop a vaccine candidate. In addition, new UMBC research on the structure of HIV has revealed a promising novel drug target for treating infection, opening a pathway to new HIV therapies. 

And finally, at Frostburg State University, junior Jessica Thayer was named a Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, an honor recognizing motivation and potential in public leadership.

Before I leave our institutions, you’ll remember I mentioned President Breaux and President Anderson among The Daily Record’s Top 100 Women in Maryland. The USM is fortunate to have still more women on that list: Susan dosReis from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy at UMB; Janine Good, from the School of Medicine at UMB; Sarah Guy, from Salisbury University; Diane Richardson, from Towson University; and Tenyo Pearl, from Coppin State University—who, as a three-time honoree, joins the publication’s Circle of Excellence. Congratulations to all of these distinguished women.

I turn now to the 2020 legislative session, which, as you know, ended early. The only other crisis in Maryland’s history that brought an early end to the session was the Civil War. Legislative leaders, working with Gov. Hogan, made significant funding available immediately to support Maryland’s COVID-19 emergency response. For that, they deserve our thanks.  

And while state funding for the University System will almost certainly be reduced given the heavy economic toll of COVID-19, I know that the hard work of so many people over the past several years means we can address these budget cuts from a position of strength.

I thank Vice Chancellor Patrick Hogan and his team, as well as our USM and institutional leadership for their continuing hard work with our state lawmakers and with our congressional delegation to mitigate the impact of this crisis on our students and on the universities that serve them. We have strong support at the state and federal levels, and we’re grateful for our elected officials’ advocacy of our expansive and vital work.

All of this said, I’m not painting a cheerful picture of our financial future. We have several variables to estimate and several impacts to manage as we go forward. We need to prepare for tough decisions—and tough decisions are coming.

But I need to say this: I will keep reminding our leaders that the University System will be central to Maryland’s economic rebuilding in the near term, and our resilience over the long term. We educate the workforce, and create the innovations, and spin off the companies, and generate the jobs, and stimulate the spending that will pull Maryland through this crisis. The USM is an investment in Maryland’s strength and an engine for Maryland’s growth. Crisis or no, we are essential to the physical and financial health of this great state.

Madame Chair, this concludes my report. I’m happy to respond to questions.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719