Report from USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman to USM Board of Regents on Dec. 18

Baltimore, Md. (Dec. 18, 2020) Thank you, Chair Gooden. And I add my thanks to Dr. Liu. His presentation is a stark reminder that the pandemic will continue to challenge us well into the future, and that its impact, sadly, will reach far beyond our health.

In a few minutes, I’ll give my final COVID update of the year. But I first want to highlight some terrific news from across the USM, because, of course, COVID hasn’t stopped our work, and we continue to celebrate significant achievements.

The full version of this report is online and in your materials.

I’ll begin with Dr. Gregory Fowler, just named the next president of the University of Maryland Global Campus. Dr. Fowler has been with Southern New Hampshire University for nine years, serving as president of SNHU’s Global Campus since 2018.

I’m so impressed with Dr. Fowler’s commitment to equity and inclusion, to expanding our reach and offering better support to the nontraditional learner, to innovating how higher education can serve ALL students, especially those who’ve historically struggled to access it. I look forward to working with him.

I thank Regent Malhotra and the members of the search committee, along with Dr. Larry Leak for his service as interim president, and Javier Miyares for his eight years leading UMGC to enormous success.

I think it’s interesting to note that Dr. Fowler is the 6th USM leader I’ve welcomed in my first year as chancellor. He joins, in order, Anthony Jenkins at Coppin; Darryll Pines at College Park; Bruce Jarrell at UMB; Anne Khademian at USG; and Eileen Abel at USMSM. I thank all of our leaders—old and new—for your passion and commitment.

For a quick overview of institutional achievements, I have to start with the big news of this week, when philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced transformative gifts to Bowie State University and UMES. The gifts—$25 million to Bowie and $20 million to UMES—are among the largest unrestricted gifts ever awarded to an institution within the USM.

This generosity is particularly meaningful now, in the midst of a pandemic that especially hurts students of color, students in poverty, first-generation students. It’s particularly meaningful now, as we struggle toward equal access and opportunity for Black and Brown students and communities.

The gifts will allow the universities to increase financial aid, invest in academic programs, and expand their endowments, enabling long-term stability and growth. I congratulate UMES and Bowie State on these historic gifts.

There was another headline that recently made waves—namely, that UMBC senior Sam Patterson was one of the 32 U.S. students named a Rhodes Scholar this year. Sam is the second Rhodes Scholar in UMBC’s history—and, I should note, the second Meyerhoff Scholar to win the award and the second Black student. Sam is a triple major at UMBC—in math, statistics, and economics. And next year, when he heads to Oxford, he’ll study the economics of transportation.

You already know that UMB—with its acclaimed vaccine development and testing programs—has taken on a national leadership role in responding to the pandemic. I’d like to add that the university is also taking a leadership role in reinforcing our health care workforce. Last month, the School of Nursing approved early exit for 182 undergraduate and graduate students so they could join the health care personnel who have been nothing short of heroic in battling this virus.

At UB, seven finalists were announced for the 2020 Attman Business Pitch Competition. I hope you’ll join the live (virtual) finale on Jan. 19, when UB’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, along with a team of Baltimore entrepreneurs, announce the winners.

Coppin State President Anthony Jenkins joined Maryland Public Television’s politics program, State Circle, to talk about the importance of HBCUs and how his graduating health care students are playing a key role in the fight against COVID.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science launched its first edX certificate course—Science for Environmental Management—which will help UMCES develop the next generation of scientists, business leaders, policymakers, and educators who are better equipped to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century.

At Salisbury University, Dr. Mary DiBartolo was named to the American Academy of Nursing’s 2020 Class of Fellows, recognizing her extraordinary contributions to the nursing profession.

At Frostburg, the Student Government Association was awarded the 2020 Excellence in Service Award by Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic. The SGA has worked hard on town-gown relations, launching shuttle services, leading citywide clean-ups, sponsoring a food pantry, hosting dialogues on civic engagement, education equity, and racial justice.

Meanwhile, the TechPort incubator in St. Mary’s County—managed by College Park and supporting the USM at Southern Maryland—made news for a heat sanitization box designed and developed there that’s capable of decontaminating 24,000 masks daily.

At a time when so many Americans are suffering the financial fallout of COVID, those who’ve been more fortunate have answered the call to give. I’d like to share just a few of these incredible philanthropy stories.

Towson University celebrated a $5.3 million gift from Fran Soistman Jr. Dr. Soistman’s gift is the largest donation from an alumnus in the school’s 154-year history. The gift will support the College of Health Professions, the College of Business & Economics, TU athletics, and programming to advance diversity and inclusion—which has been one of Towson’s hallmark successes.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, Phillip and Elizabeth Gross gave $6.8 million to the school’s Incentive Awards Program, which currently reaches students in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. But with this gift, the program will expand to five freshmen from Montgomery County, who will be awarded full 4-year scholarships and wraparound services.

At UMGC, alumna Bonnie Broh-Kahn established endowment funds through a $1 million bequest. The gift provides funding for scholarships as well as support for the student emergency relief fund.

The Universities at Shady Grove held its 11th Annual Scholarship and Donor Recognition Celebration, a virtual event honoring more than 650 scholarship recipients, donors, and USG partners.

At the USM Hagerstown, I was delighted to take part in the center’s annual Feaste at Yuletide, which raised nearly $50,000 in scholarship support for USMH students.

And, finally, across the System, our USM family and friends came out in force to support students facing financial hardship during COVID. Donations poured into the institutions’ student emergency funds, and by year’s end, those donations totaled $2.4 million Systemwide. This generosity among our friends is such a blessing.

Before I turn to our COVID response, I’ll share that our USM 2020 Annual Report has just been completed. It’s an amazing compilation of what we’ve achieved across the System in the areas that mean the most to us, to our state leaders, and, of course, to our students. The report is available online now, and once it’s printed, I’ll make sure you get a copy.

Regents, as we close out 2020, with two COVID vaccines having now secured FDA approval, I know we’re filled with hope that this is, indeed, the beginning of the end of this pandemic. At the same time, we know we have several more difficult months ahead of us, and, as COVID cases and deaths spike, we must continue our fight to end this virus and keep our people safe.

Without question, the USM is deeply engaged in this fight.

Just yesterday, the COVID vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases gained FDA approval for emergency use. This is a milestone for the world, yes, but it’s also a milestone for us—for the University System.

UMBC alumna Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett and her colleague Dr. Barney Graham led the team of scientists at NIAID who helped develop the Moderna vaccine. When asked about the involvement of Black scientists in vaccine development, Dr. Anthony Fauci proudly acknowledged Dr. Corbett. Is there any more powerful endorsement of our educational mission?

Our involvement with the Moderna vaccine doesn’t stop with Dr. Corbett. The School of Medicine at UMB led clinical trials of the vaccine to determine safety and efficacy, enabling its quick approval—and saving countless lives.

Dr. Jarrell marked his first day as UMB president by taking part in the vaccine trial—to show his confidence in the vaccine and to set an example for those who might be skeptical of it. Dr. Hrabowski and his wife Jacqueline also took part in the trial—expressly to highlight the urgent need for African Americans, Latinx, and other people of color to participate in medical studies.

Without doubt, there is justified distrust of a vaccine among communities of color. This nation’s history of medical research, and medical interventions, on Black and Brown people, on Indigenous people, is appalling. But these are the very communities that are being disproportionately harmed by COVID. These are the very people we need to save. There’s simply no alternative.

I’d have you look at the System’s institutional leadership. Of 12 USM presidents, more than half are Black women and men. We have the opportunity to send a message to our communities that this is a life-or-death proposition. And we can do it from a place of empathy and understanding. Because our presidents do understand the distrust, the skepticism. And, when a vaccine is available for public use, they’ve pledged to get vaccinated, and to ask their communities to do the same.

Our students are also taking up the cause. Our COVID Research & Innovation Task Force has launched a PSA Challenge for USM students, soliciting creative public service announcements urging Marylanders to get vaccinated and to comply with safe COVID practices.

The USM’s people—our epidemiologists; our public health and infectious disease experts; our leadership, faculty, and students—have the credibility and compassion to make the case for vaccination, and all of us will be doing just that.

And once a vaccine is more widely available, our USM campuses will step up as vaccine distribution sites. Five of our universities have already been asked by state and local health departments to make their facilities available. And, of course, all five have enthusiastically agreed—Towson, Frostburg, UMB, College Park, UMES. We’re working on a Systemwide agreement to facilitate more campus distribution sites should the state ultimately need them.

Meanwhile, UMCES will be partnering with the state for freezer access, given the ultra-cold conditions in which the Pfizer vaccine must be stored.

I mentioned earlier in my report that UMB’s nursing school allowed their students early exit in order to join the workforce, but UMB wasn’t the only university to do so. At Towson, 51 nursing students—fully two-thirds of the winter graduating class—opted to leave early and join their colleagues in battling COVID.

But our current students, too, are in this fight. We’re working on paths to engage our nursing and pharmacy students in the state’s mass vaccination program. We hope to open up these paths to other health professions students in the future.

These paths include direct employment of our students by health care institutions, volunteer opportunities—and, notably, options to offer for-credit clinical rotations to students engaged in mass vax efforts so that they might serve while also making valuable progress toward their degree.

This local work is every bit as important as our regional partnerships and our global vision. Last month, the USM signed an agreement with Connected DMV, a regional economic development consortium coming out of the Washington Board of Trade. The business, academic, and government leaders who make up this group are focused on developing a strategic and sustaining post-COVID economic recovery plan for the Capital Region.

The USM is a lead academic partner in this effort—and I’m proud to serve on the steering committee. For our part, we’re focused on establishing a regional pandemic response, preparedness, and biodefense strategy that will address existing and emerging public health threats. This work complements our own USM pandemic preparedness and response activities designed to marshal Systemwide capabilities and assets.

We have deep expertise in, for instance, data tracking and forecasting, public health policy, vaccine development, bio-production, quantum computing, supply chain solutions. We have what the region and the nation need to help prevent what we’ve just been through these past 10 months, and we’re leveraging that expertise every day.

And we’re applying what we know close to home, too—mining decades of scholarly leadership in how to control disease spread, but also applying the on-the-ground experience we gained by resuming on-campus instruction this semester.

At our last meeting, I mentioned our lessons learned document. The COVID project managers on each campus are now synthesizing the changes they’ll make next spring based on how they did this fall.

I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t acknowledge that that the biggest issue come spring will be testing. We’re investigating a rapid-return test that would allow for more frequent testing and easier capture of a positive result through the infection cycle. It would allow for routine testing of all students on campus (vs. surveillance samples), and it positions us for faster catch-and-release from quarantine, which is good for everyone.

Yesterday, we had more than 2,200 new COVID cases in Maryland. I don’t believe we can look at this surge and go about business as usual. Our universities were never bubbles unto themselves. The conditions in the communities surrounding our institutions have everything to do with the conditions on campus. And those community conditions are deteriorating.

And I’ll say one more thing: I think we can confidently project that, with new CDC leadership under the Biden Administration—with Dr. Rochelle Walensky in charge—there will be an expectation of more robust testing at U.S. universities.

I look forward to updating you on our testing plans at our next meeting.

FALL 2021
So, yes, we have another difficult semester in front of us. But with a vaccine in mass distribution by late spring or early summer, I’m optimistic for a fall that looks closer to what we know.

But, at the same time, we’ve learned so much from this experience—how to optimize remote instruction, how to adapt courses for online delivery, how to meet the needs of our students in a way that honors their differences.

We cannot let all the progress we’ve made in access and innovation languish once on-campus instruction once again becomes the norm. Instead, we should strive to integrate our strategies, platforms, and resources for both on-campus and online learning. That’s how you emerge from a crisis stronger, more agile, and more resilient.

Madame Chair, this concludes my report.


Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719