Report from USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman to USM Board of Regents on June 17

Baltimore, Md. (June 17, 2021) –Thank you, Chair Gooden. I echo your words earlier on Juneteenth. While it’s long been an important day in the Black community, it’s gratifying to see people outside that community understand its significance. I’m glad we’re commemorating Juneteenth as a System—and I’m glad the country is now following our lead. 

We have much to celebrate as we wrap up the academic year. Nearly three-quarters of Maryland adults are at least partially vaccinated against COVID. We’re seeing our lowest positivity rates ever—under 1 percent by the start of this week. New cases are trending under 100 a day. COVID-related hospitalizations are at their lowest since March of 2020, the same month we pivoted to remote instruction and ushered in a year like no other. 

We anticipate the Pfizer vaccine to secure FDA approval in maybe a month, and Moderna to follow close behind. The World Health Organization has approved eight vaccines for use globally—great news for our international students. Plus, researchers are encouraged not only by the efficacy of the vaccines, but their efficacy over time—the duration of their benefit. 

I’m not saying the crisis is over. It’s not. We’re particularly troubled by the fact that unvaccinated people are being hospitalized at the same rate they were during the very worst months of the pandemic. Young people now make up a growing share of COVID cases—and those young people are getting sick; they’re being hospitalized. The COVID variants we’re seeing—especially the Delta variant—are very dangerous and very concerning. 

Nonetheless, we are turning a corner. On Tuesday, Gov. Hogan announced that, while Maryland’s state of emergency remains in place, the COVID-related emergency restrictions he’s imposed will be lifted on July 1. At the same time, the governor recognizes the University System’s need and authority to make decisions regarding mandatory vaccination. And the System presidents and I remain convinced that vaccination is both a reasonable and necessary means of protecting the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors.

It is, of course, vaccination that accounts for the falling cases I just mentioned, the falling infection rate, the falling death rate. And it’s vaccination that is—still—our way out of this pandemic. It’s how we’ll get students and employees safely back on campus; how we’ll resume in-person teaching and learning; how we’ll return to normal. 

And that’s precisely what our universities are planning to do—as much as possible, return to normal. This fall, we’ll be open for in-person learning and on-campus living. 

The universities are handling the details of vaccination requirements—the documentation of vaccination, exemptions from the mandate, help for our international students in securing authorized vaccines. 

We’re still discussing COVID protocols on campus—testing, monitoring, masking—and how they’ll be applied to both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. 

But our campuses will be full again this fall—and, for that, we’re grateful and excited.

As Chair Gooden noted, the June board meeting serves as the Chancellor’s Annual Report, a year-in-review for the USM. I’ll cherry-pick some items, and the full report will be posted online.

I’ll begin with a year of leadership changes across the System. Last July, Dr. Darryll Pines assumed the presidency of College Park, and set bold goals in diversity, climate action, research, and the arts. Since then, we’ve welcomed Dr. Bruce Jarrell as president of UMB—just as the entire nation came to rely on the university’s expertise in epidemiology and vaccine development. Dr. Greg Fowler took on the presidency of UMGC and immediately set about building partnerships to open higher ed access and affordability.

Dr. Anne Khademian became executive director of USG, and Dr. Eileen Abel, the inaugural executive director of the USM at Southern Maryland. Both are concentrating on new education and research opportunities to fuel regional economic growth.  

In many ways, the year has been a trial by fire, so I’m thrilled—and relieved—that these leaders have shown themselves to be seemingly fireproof. 

Our institutional excellence is really the excellence of our people. So it’s to them I give credit for the fact that every eligible USM institution had top-ranked programs as judged by U.S. News & World Report. Many, too, were recognized as best-value universities by the likes of Forbes, Kiplinger’s, MONEY Magazine, the Princeton Review.

And while there are far too many individual honors to recount here, I’ll note that College Park was a Top Producer of Fulbright Scholars, with six awards. Two UMCES scientists were named Fulbright Scholars. And three institutions were named Top Producers of Fulbright Students—College Park, with 16 awards, UMBC with 11, and Salisbury with six.

And Sam Patterson became the second student in UMBC’s history to win the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. He’ll study the economics of transportation at Oxford this fall. 

This year has been marked by tremendous growth in academic programs and campus facilities. 

Towson’s new Science Complex is now the largest academic building on TU’s campus, supporting the school’s nationally recognized STEM programming. And Towson’s College of Health Professions building is on deck for a summer groundbreaking. 

Frostburg broke ground on its Education and Health Sciences Center. USMSM gears up for a fall ribbon-cutting on its SMART building, catalyzing new opportunities in education and research. UMGC opened a new permanent office at Spain’s Moron Air Force Base, its 51st location in Europe and the second in Spain. 

UMES just celebrated the halfway point on construction of its new School of Pharmacy. Meanwhile, UMES welcomed a 17-student charter class to its new graduate-level PA program.

This year at USM Hagerstown, the first students in Frostburg’s Physician Assistant program—25 students in all—celebrated their graduation. Coppin added two new master’s programs: an MS in Applied Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, and an MS in Polymer & Materials Science. Salisbury has announced a new integrated science major, the first in the USM. It allows students to combine two or more STEM disciplines, or create a STEM major not offered by the school.

UMCES launched its first edX professional certificate course—Science for Environmental Management. Frostburg expanded its programs with a BS in Life-Cycle Facilities Management. Bowie will establish an endowed chair of cybersecurity, serving as director of the Center for Cybersecurity and Emerging Technologies.

USG added several new academic programs from partner universities, including Translational Life Science Technology from UMBC; Biocomputational Engineering from College Park; and a BFA in Graphic Design from Salisbury. And this spring at UMB’s School of Pharmacy, 132 students graduated in the first class of the Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics master’s program—the only program of its kind in the nation.

While this year was one of tremendous challenges, it was also one that showed the enormous generosity of the USM’s alumni and friends. 

I begin with the historic gifts from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott: $25 million to Bowie State and $20 million to UMES. Among the largest unrestricted gifts ever awarded within the USM, they allow the schools to boost financial aid, invest in academic programs, and expand their endowments.

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti followed that generosity with his own gift to Maryland HBCUs. Honoring the team’s former GM Ozzie Newsome, $1 million apiece will go to Bowie, Coppin, and UMES, funding scholarships for Baltimore City public school graduates.

UB received a record $5 million gift from real estate developer Sam Rose to create a scholarship fund for students struggling to afford tuition. Bob Clarke and Glenda Chatham—longtime supporters of Salisbury—announced a $1.5 million planned endowment to benefit the Honors College. 

Towson celebrated the largest single donation from an alum in its history—a $5.3 million gift from Dr. Fran Soistman, supporting programming in health, business, athletics, and diversity. Plus, Alena and David Schwaber marked National Nurses Week with a $1.3 million gift to Towson’s College of Health Professions. 

At UMB, Bill and Joanne Conway committed nearly $14 million to the School of Nursing, the largest gift in the school’s history and the 4th from the Conways. This latest gift covers full tuition, fees & books for 345 Conway Nursing Scholars.

A $5 million gift from Marco and Debbie Chacon establishes the Chacon Center for Immigrant Justice at UMB’s Carey School of Law. The center provides representation to asylum and immigration petitioners, and advocates for fundamental immigration reform.

At UMGC, alumna Bonnie Broh-Kahn announced a $1 million bequest to support student scholarships and emergency aid for students facing financial hardships. At College Park, Phillip and Elizabeth Gross are giving $6.8 million to support students with significant financial need. And a $9 million gift from the Brin Family Foundation will support College Park’s reimagining of performing arts education. 

There are happily far too many grants and contracts won this year to mention—grants advancing life-saving, world-changing discovery; grants fueling an inclusive, innovation-based economy. 

But I do want to mention the $68 million partnership announced last month joining the U.S. Army Research Lab with College Park and UMBC to accelerate research in artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics—research that can mitigate human risk in hazardous environments. 

I mention it because the USM houses deep expertise in advanced computing, quantum, cybersecurity, biotech. We have so many opportunities to exploit our location near federal labs and agencies, our partnerships with industry and government, our capacity to build and nurture entrepreneurial communities. 

We can make Maryland not only the nation’s center for cutting-edge R&D—but an exemplar in getting the technologies we produce into the hands of those who need them. I discussed these kinds of opportunities just last week at USG, with Montgomery County Exec Marc Elrich, Provost Sanjay Rai from Montgomery College, the county’s tech industry leaders, and our presidents of UMB, UMBC, College Park, and Bowie.

The University System has an urgent research mission to make those things that improve human health and well-being, that safeguard personal and national security, that enrich our natural world, and that protect the communities in which we live, learn, work, and serve. 

And serve we have. UMES, Frostburg, UB, Towson, and UMBC all earned the Voter-Friendly Campus designation from the Fair Elections Center, honoring their work in cultivating democratic engagement on campus—work that’s especially critical now as we see our democratic norms under attack.

UMBC won Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic’s Engaged Campus Award for its work in promoting racial equity, inclusion, and social justice. Salisbury has been named an AmeriCorps School of National Service, opening college access and affordability for the organization’s volunteers. And last fall, Bowie and College Park launched the BSU–UMD Social Justice Alliance, honoring the memory of slain Bowie State alum 1st Lt. Richard W. Collins III.

And how’s this for impact: UMB and a host of community partners just celebrated a record-low infant mortality rate in Baltimore’s Upton-Druid Heights neighborhood. After years of intensive outreach, investment, and education, infants deaths are down 75 percent, and the neighborhood now has mortality rates comparable to wealthy communities just a few miles away. 

In fact, while this past year was dominated by our response to COVID, I think it’s ultimately our commitment to racial equity and social justice that distinguishes this year. This spring, in the wake of appalling acts of violence against communities of color across the country, I said that our outrage at these acts is genuine. But it’s also easy. It’s easy to condemn hate, and racism, and bigotry, and ignorance. It’s much harder to do the work that resists them—the work of education, tolerance, and love. 

The only valid response to hate is not more words denouncing it, but sustained action that starves it of fuel, that renders it weak and, in time, irrelevant. That’s the work to which the USM and its people are committed: securing equity for all members of our communities, demanding justice on their behalf, and defending the principles on which this country was founded—and which it struggles still to honor. 

Across the System, our institutions are educating their communities on structural racism and anti-racism; promoting dialogue and direct action on issues of equity and justice; honoring those whose contributions to our campuses have long been ignored and whose communities were displaced to accommodate our growth.

Our work is to acknowledge the legacy of discrimination and brutality we inherited, and to ensure that that legacy ends with us.

As our institutions make plans for a return to campus this fall, I’m grateful I’ve been able to continue my own personal return to campus. 

Last fall, I showed you photos of my visits to the USM at Southern Maryland, Bowie State, UMBC, Coppin, and College Park. Since then, I’ve added five institutions to my list: Towson, Frostburg, Salisbury, UMES, and UMCES. While the slideshow plays, let me just tell you a bit about what I did at each campus. You don’t have to pay close attention—my words won’t match up with the photos.

Fred, can we cue up the pictures?

At Towson, I met with university leaders and faculty, and took in an Advanced Modern Dance class. At Frostburg, Pres. Nowaczyk and I spoke with the university’s NPR affiliate. Plus, I took a look at the Education & Health Sciences Building going up on campus. At Salisbury, I got a tour of the school’s COVID testing operation. I joined Pres. Wight for his weekly briefing to the SU community. But the most fun was taking part in a glass-blowing class. 

At UMES, together with Chair Gooden, I took part in the hard hat celebration for the new pharmacy building and had a chance to talk with health professions students. At UMCES, I went from west to east—from the Appalachian Lab in Frostburg to Horn Point on the Shore—and learned a little about the science of stewarding our ecological health. I got a crash course in aquaculture, and saw the oyster-setting pier and hatchery. 

There was one more campus visit I got to make this spring. On a beautiful day in May, I addressed the Class of 2021 at Coppin State University. I’d spoken at a few virtual commencements—but Coppin’s was my only in-person ceremony.

So I’d like to end my report by telling you what I told the students that day. And I’d like to show you another set of photos—photos of graduates from across the USM. Because they’re the reason we’re here. They’re the reason we do the work we do; the reason we keep going—just like they have every day of this most difficult year. 

I saw in those 400 Coppin graduates the entire USM Class of 2021. Now I’d like you to see them, too. Fred, can we start the slideshow?

I think it’s important to remember that we have students who earned their degrees this year while also taking care of their children, their parents, their partners, and neighbors. Many worked long hours in hard jobs so they could afford a college education. Many suffered COVID’s collateral damage: isolation, anxiety, stress, loneliness, loss. Some buried friends and family who succumbed to the disease.

And so I thanked the Class of 2021 for showing all of us what it looks like to face extraordinary challenges, and persevere anyway. Succeed anyway. Shine anyway. Despite an objectively terrible year, they fought through it. They threw down the obstacles in their way, and somehow made a path forward. 

And so I asked them to remember what they accomplished this year. Every time new challenges present themselves, I asked them to remember exactly what it took to prevail—it took their focus, their resilience, their grit, their hard, hard work. I told them they were powerful, and I asked them to nurture that power in someone else—to give a little bit of their strength to the communities and people who need them. 

And let me say this: We all need them. We all need leaders like the class we just graduated—leaders who can light a path forward in the darkness … and shine. At the end of the day, this leadership is what we’re cultivating. And it’s such an honor to do it. 

I thank every member of this board—because you have a vital piece of this work. Our graduates owe a debt of gratitude to you, as do I. Madame Chair, this concludes my report.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719