COLUMBUS - The Senate yesterday unanimously approved the merger of the University of Toledo and the Medical University of Ohio, and Gov. Bob Taft plans to complete the process by signing the bill into law on March 31.
The unprecedented marriage of two major universities into the third-largest higher-education institution in the state's budget will have completed its rapid journey from bill introduction to the governor's signature without a single negative vote.
"This is a plan that makes total sense," said Sen. Dale Miller (D., Cleveland), who, as a recently appointed transplant from the House, is the only lawmaker to vote for the UT merger in both chambers. While he praised the merger as "rational" and "well-conceived," he sounded a cautionary note on the state of higher education in Ohio.
"Ohio remains an undereducated state," he said. "The percentage of adults who have college degrees is several points below the national average. The percentage of high school graduates who go on to college is also below the national average.
"While I would certainly think that moves like this ought to be able to save the state of Ohio a significant and meaningful amount of dollars, I think there's no substitute for proper state public support for higher edu-cation that we currently do not have," he said.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), creates a new UT with a $650 million annual budget and 21,000 students. The merger is set to officially take place on July 1, but will not be truly complete until the newly merged board of trustees is whittled from 17 members to nine by July 2, 2014.
The university hopes the marriage will boost the state's standing in national rankings, especially when it comes to research grants.
"Over the next few years, there will be days in which we might even question the wisdom of moving forward with this project," said Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green). "But we know in the end it's the right thing to do, and it holds great promise."
The bill provides no money to help the two universities with the costs of uniting the institutions, including a conversion of computer systems, relocation of departments, building renovations, and staff changes. The costs have been estimated to be as high as $20 million.
The state may provide financial assistance in the future, mostly likely in its two-year capital budget for brick-and-mortar and equipment projects to be considered this fall. The General Assembly, however, is not expected to fund the full $20 million.
"We're committed to shaping a new University of Toledo ," said Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo). "This merger will put the University of Toledo in a new class of universities. It can help Toledo transform into the center of a new information economy. We have new hope in northwest Ohio."
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