College sets up EVMS steering committee to investigate merger

The proposed partnership between the College of William and Mary and Eastern Virginia Medical School will have to pass rigorous examinations of financial cost-effectiveness and organizational feasibility to have any hope of coming to fruition.

The steering committee, comprised of 13 professors and administrators from a variety of departments, has been assigned the task of studying the possibility of a merger. The committee includes five distinct subcommittees: academic programs, academic culture, organization structure and legal issues, budgets and health care, and political matters and communication.

One of the committee members is adjunct assistant professor of biology Beverly Sher, who also serves as the College health professions advisor.

“It’s not a situation where other people come and sit in at this point, but the committee members have been going out to members of the College community to elicit lots of feedback,” Sher said. “Provost Michael Halleran has basically said that he is committed to having this be an open process.”

Sher is satisfied with the current relationship between the College and EVMS, which includes an early assurance program for College undergraduates applying to medical school. She also feels that a merger would have very little effect on students at the College preparing for medical school.

“We are already EVMS’s biggest feeder school. …  They take a fair number of our people as is, so I just don’t think it would change things that much,” Sher said. “It might be that it’s easier to do research in a med school lab, but EVMS is a long way from here.

I don’t know if you’ve driven to Norfolk recently, but the traffic is horrendous, so commuting down there for research during the school year probably would be pretty hard to do.”

Political support and input from key groups will also need to be considered, according to Vice President for Strategic Initiatives James Golden, who chairs the political matters and communication subcommittee.

“It’s quite clear that if we were to move forward with some closer relationship with EVMS that we would need support from a wide variety of people in that effort,” Golden said. “Certainly, the state has a great interest in this whole issue of public health. … There are lots of interested parties throughout Hampton Roads who’d have a great interest in this, and we want to be sensitive to their views.”

Chancellor professor of economics Robert Archibald, who chairs the academic culture subcommittee, explained that the merger with EVMS ultimately must make sense from a cost-benefit perspective.

“In economics, when mergers occur, it’s because somehow you think that the joint entity is going to be more successful than the two parts. If not, why merge?” Archibald said. “I think any discussion of any merger has to look for ways that the joint entity can be more successful than the two separate ones are, and that, I think, is what the people at EVMS are trying to figure out, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

In response to concerns that a medical school might alter the College’s academic priorities, Golden pointed to the success of the College’s current graduate programs in business, law, education and marine science.

“I don’t think that there’s any question that we want to maintain our unique strength in our undergraduate liberal arts program,” Golden said. “That’s really the heart of the College, and I think it always will be. … We are very sensitive to maintaining the core emphasis on the undergraduate liberal program while we explore some things that we can do at the graduate level to complement that.”


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