Report from USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman to the USM Board of Regents / Annual Report

Baltimore, Md. (June 19, 2020) -- Chair Gooden, thank you. To the USM Board of Regents, to the leaders of our universities and regional centers, to all of our University System employees, I thank you for your incredible dedication to our students and families, your concern for their well-being during this time of acute stress. I thank you for your wisdom and leadership in managing a crisis whose scope we’ve never seen before. I thank you for working together to calmly bring us through this period of uncertainty, to strengthen our operations, and to demonstrate, every day, how deeply you care for this System and what it means for Maryland.

The June board meeting serves as the Chancellor’s Annual Report, a Year in Review for the System. I’ll touch on a few items that you’ll find in the full version of the report—which you have, and which is posted on the USM website.

As I think about this year, I find myself quoting Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

Unfortunately, the “worst of times” is obvious. COVID-19 cleared the System’s campuses, short-circuited our research, stressed our resources, and sent students off in different directions to manage their physical, financial, and emotional health without the in-person support and care of their own campus community.

For the country, COVID-19 brought widespread job losses, isolation, anxiety, and—of course—devastating loss of life, all of it felt most keenly in communities of color.  

Then the killing of George Floyd on May 25 set all of this kindling ablaze—a reckoning for us, a reckoning to perhaps fully and finally confront race & racism, which shape every part of American life.

As Chair Gooden mentioned, today is Juneteenth. And while it’s fitting that we acknowledge the significance of this day, it’s also fitting that we acknowledge how much work remains to end slavery’s abiding legacy of violence, oppression, and injustice.

The University System has given all employees administrative leave this afternoon so that we might take a moment to reflect on exactly this. I hope these hours spent in commemoration or celebration give us some time and space to prepare for the work ahead. Because there is vitally important work to do.

So, how, then, could this possibly be the “best of times”?

I’ll start with this fight for racial justice. In our streets every day, we see a coming together of people—different races and colors and genders and faiths, in big cities and small towns , demanding an end to the structural racism that puts the lives of Black Americans in danger. If we sustain this momentum, it could be a tipping point. It could usher in real, meaningful, and lasting change.

The University System has led in its activism: Coppin, UMB, and others held virtual town halls to talk about race and justice in America. College Park’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion launched a Week of Solidarity and Reflection, UB’s Schaefer Center relaunched BeHEARD Baltimore to give voice to those who are so often silenced. The Towson community marched in protest to show that Black Lives Matter to them.

I see the best of times, as well, when I look at our work to confront COVID-19. As the University System has responded to this crisis and to the needs of our students, I’ve seen a spirit of collaboration, compassion, and generosity that I’ve never seen before.

The way we’re working together is remarkable—bound to one another and guided in our decisions by shared priorities: protecting the health and well-being of our students and employees; sustaining academic excellence and institutional prominence; and leveraging the System’s enormous capacity to contribute innovative COVID solutions.

Our fall semester planning is moving forward quickly, with every institution working through thoughtful plans for a safe return to campus. We’re piloting projects to test—and to stress—our systems for COVID surveillance so that we can optimize our ability to inhibit transmission and contain the disease.

We’re helping students and families navigate financial uncertainty: directing discretionary and philanthropic dollars to student emergency funds; refunding a portion of room, board, and fees for students who returned home mid-semester last spring; and, pending a vote by this Board today, freezing the cost of tuition and fees—and room and board—for the upcoming year.

Since the earliest days of the pandemic, USM institutions have contributed their assets and expertise in unique ways to fight COVID. Towson donated hospital beds and equipment to its local medical centers, and graduated a quarter of its senior nursing students several weeks early so they could join the front-line workforce. Salisbury faculty and students serve as translators for local COVID patients who speak Spanish and Haitian Creole. With an NSF grant, Bowie’s Sharad Sharma is using data visualization to study COVID’s disproportionate impact on the Black community.

And, of course, the three institutions leading our COVID Research and Innovation Task Force—College Park, UMB, and UMBC—are having a tremendous impact nationwide. College Park’s School of Public Health is supplying critical information to the American people on disease spread and public health impacts. Lucy Wilson, an infectious disease expert at UMBC, worked with the National Governor’s Association on its “reopening roadmap.”

And UMB has been a truly indispensable leader—within the System, across the state, and around the world: developing a large-scale COVID testing initiative to exponentiate Maryland’s capacity; performing “first-in-the-U.S.” clinical trials for COVID vaccine candidates and therapeutics; studying an old polio vaccine for potential temporary protection; and developing a test that detects COVID in as little as 10 minutes. This is a team led by Dipanjan Pan—appointed dually at UMB and UMBC.

When I consider the totality of what the USM is doing to meet the immense challenges before us, I truly do see these as the best of times.

But this progress is not all of our progress. Across the University System, this past year has seen extraordinary achievement. Again, I can’t share every example here, so please do consult the full report.

We’ve seen tremendous physical and academic growth on our campuses. Bowie broke ground on its unique Entrepreneurial Living and Learning Community, a modern residence hall and entrepreneurial center. Towson launched StarTUp, connecting campus entrepreneurs with the Greater Baltimore business community. The Universities at Shady Grove celebrated completion of its state-of-the-art Biomedical Sciences and Engineering building.

UMB began renovating a significantly bigger Community Engagement Center to accommodate its outreach programs and partnerships in West Baltimore. UMBC opened its Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building, a collaborative space for learning and discovery. Coppin launched the University Academic Advising Center to improve student retention. UMES received accreditation confirmation to offer its Physician Assistant program. College Park is leading the Maryland Quantum Alliance, a regional consortium of academic and industry scientists driving quantum discovery and innovation, and last year the university broke ground on a new home for its School of Public Policy.

And through a brand-new $2.6 million partnership between the University of Maryland Global Campus and the Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, USM OnTrack will support the expansion of dynamic, high-quality online learning across the USM, which is so vitally important—not just now, as we adjust to an online environment, but well into the future, as we consider a permanently transformed higher education landscape.

Last year, our institutions won an impressive number of awards, grants, and gifts. Frostburg won $4 million from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number of certified teachers in Maryland schools. The University of Baltimore announced a gift from the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation, providing up to $5 million to support students transferring from two-year colleges, including active-duty military and veterans.

The University of Maryland Global Campus received a record $16 million gift this year, some of which has already been applied to help students struggling financially during the pandemic. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science was awarded a $2.5 million NSF grant to grow the number and diversity of students in the STEM disciplines. Salisbury’s School of Nursing won a $2.5 million MHEC grant to prepare clinical nurse educators, as well as a $2.1 million grant from the College Assistance Migrant Program to support students who are engaged—or whose parents are engaged—in seasonal farm work.

UMBC collected more than $10 million in grants last year to build on its national leadership in increasing diversity in the STEM disciplines and in the STEM research and professional workforce. School of Pharmacy faculty at UMES received a $1.3 million NIH grant to establish a five-year partnership with Somerset County public schools, providing minority and underserved students hands-on experiences in drug discovery and biomedical research.

With a $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Bowie will cultivate expert educators who can design culturally relevant lessons and strategies to improve success among students in poverty. At UMB, a $1.4 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration will address the opioid epidemic by assembling an integrated behavioral health workforce around people with substance use disorders.

Last year, our institutions and people were singled out for recognition. UMBC was recognized as both a Fulbright Top Producing Institution and a Carnegie Community Engaged University. Salisbury joined the Fulbright Top-Producing list with a record six students receiving a Fulbright Award. And Salisbury won the coveted Carnegie Classification, as well. College Park is also a Fulbright Top Producer, and was named a Top 100 Minority Degree Producer by Diverse magazine.

Coppin ranked fourth on a list of 2020’s best HBCUs, compiled by the College Consensus website. Bowie State President Aminta Breaux and UMES President Heidi Anderson were both recognized among Maryland’s Top 100 Women.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some good news from the System Office and the Board as well.  USM Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Ellen Herbst was honored at the Baltimore Business Journal’s 2019 Best in Finance event. Regent Ike Leggett was honored with the 2019 Legacy of Leadership Award, the highest honor conferred by the White House Fellows Foundation.

The University System’s Maryland Research and Education Network won an NSF grant to provide high-speed networking infrastructure to a number of underserved areas—a grant that will dramatically expand computing capacity at Frostburg, UMES, Salisbury, and UMCES.

And last year, the USM’s Maryland Momentum Fund made investments in eight early-stage companies affiliated with our universities, more than doubling the number of companies in the fund’s portfolio. The System has invested $4.5 million in these companies, an amount matched almost 4-to-1 by co-investors.

Finally, as we look back over the year, it was also a year of transition. We have new regents: The Hon. Kelly Schulz, Geoff Gonella, Sam Malhotra, and Meredith Mears. We named Bruce Jarrell as UMB’s interim president. We welcomed Anthony Jenkins as Coppin’s new president.

We announced Darryll Pines as the next president of College Park. And as this is President Loh’s last Board of Regents meeting, I’d like to commend him once again for a decade of leadership and excellence. College Park stands proudly among the nation’s very best flagship universities, and that is a testament to Wallace’s vision and dedication. Thank you, Wallace.

Last but not least—one hopes—the University System welcomed a new chancellor. So I’ll end my report invoking Charles Dickens once again: Serving this University System, our students, our citizens, and our state has been the best of times for me. It has been an honor and a privilege.

Madame Chair, this concludes my report. I’m happy to answer any questions the Regents may have.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719