Leadership & Governance

Bringing an Anchor Institution's Resources to a Troubled Community

Jay Perman, U. of Maryland at Baltimore

March 23, 2016

Produced by Julia Schmalz and Carmen Mendoza

Jay A. Perman, president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, talks about how it worked to help the city before the recent unrest there, and how it has intervened to help at-risk youth before they reach college age.


LEE GARDNER: Hello. I'm here with Dr. Jay A. Perman, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, which is located in downtown Baltimore and houses a state law school, a state medical school, and other programs. Welcome.

JAY PERMAN: Thank you very much. Very nice to be here, Lee.

LEE GARDNER: The first thing I wanted to talk about was that the university is located on the border of West Baltimore, which was the center of unrest last spring after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. I'm wondering if we could talk about what that experience was like for you and for others on campus.

JAY PERMAN: Well, I would say that we don't think of it as our being on the border of West Baltimore. We feel very strongly, Lee, that that is our community, and we are part of their community. And it creates a completely different level of concern, a completely different level of obligation. And that's the way we have viewed the good times in West Baltimore and also the bad times. 


LEE GARDNER: The unrest last spring inspired a lot of discussion about Baltimore's problems and how to fix them. What has the university done in the intervening months to tackle that?

JAY PERMAN: Well, I should start by saying that while the unrest in Baltimore last April was certainly a clarion call to us and many others, at the same time, it was not a wake-up call. Because we have spent many years being concerned about the community of which we're a part. So that allowed us to, in many ways, not start from scratch, but to take a lot of what we were doing with regard to education, and particularly K-12 education, with regard to health, with regard to work-force development, with regard to community building, it allowed us to build on what we were already doing.

LEE GARDNER: Can a university have large-scale impacts on some of these long-term problems? You're mostly a graduate institution. It's not as if you can hand out scholarships to promising high-school students, or not very many, probably. What are the levers that you can grasp to deal with the causes of the issues, not just the symptoms?

JAY PERMAN: Well, let me tell you what we've done by way of example. This past fall we launched a program intended to focus initially on sixth graders in three West Baltimore schools, with several objectives. One, very much related to our mission, to find children who we could prepare with regard to STEM fields, and excite to the health-care fields, where we need them.

The plain fact of the matter is that the number of African-American males matriculating to medical schools across the United States is less than the number that matriculated in 1978. This despite all kinds of well-thought-out and well-intended pipeline programs to create a more-diverse health-care work force, which is what people want, which is what people demand. The literature clearly shows that.

But it's not working as well as it should. And when you talk to people who attract late high schoolers or college students to science and ultimately health-care fields like medicine or dentistry or nursing, they say that there's just not a large enough pool among African-Americans and Latinos.

Well, we believe and I think, again, there is evidence to show that that is because the intervention is not early enough. Ergo, we started a program, which we launched this fall, with 40 West Baltimore children in the sixth grade, and we're going to hold onto those children through high school, get them prepared for college, and we're going to take a cohort each fall, so that ultimately we'll have several hundred children in the school, in the program.

Why is that important? Yes, in terms of diversifying our health-care-professional work force. But also, and this gets down to the real relevance related to what the problem is in West Baltimore, so much of the problem is a matter of people not having the opportunity to get jobs. Health care, up economy, down economy, there's always jobs, and they're reasonably well-paying jobs.

So we're trying to do two things. We're trying to prepare a work force that America demands, and we're trying to make sure these kids are in a position to get a job.

LEE GARDNER: Great. Thank you for being here.

JAY PERMAN: Thank you so much. It's delightful.