NORFOLK - Access to pre-eminent practitioners in a host of medical fields. Larger-scale research projects. Never having to leave Hampton Roads for state-of-the-art medical care. Those are some of the possible benefits of a merger between Eastern Virginia Medical School and The College of William and Mary or Old Dominion University. But how a merger might happen, or if one happens at all, for now is far less clear.

Dr. Brian Weinblatt of the University of Miami has studied and written about a number of university mergers.

'There is no change that can happen in the life of a university, short of starting a school, or shutting down an existing university, that is like a merger,' Weinblatt states.

EVMS officials realize the number of free-standing medical schools today is dwindling.

Weinblatt says schools considering a merger need to answer several important questions. Are they a good fit? Are they mission complementary? Is there academic synergy? Who would be the president and how would the board be structured?

It's a lot to consider and perhaps why no one is rushing into a relationship.

'We're dating not mating with William and Mary and we're continuing to grow the established relationship we've had with ODU,' stresses Dr. Richard Homan, president of EVMS.

William and Mary would bring prestige to a merger, along with a high ranking and large endowment. While W&M isan elite liberal arts institution, Provost Michael Halleran points to some of the school's core science programs, rejecting 'geography' as an obstacle to a formal partnership with EVMS.

'Proximity doesn't guarantee a fruitful connection nor does distance preclude a very robust affiliation,' Halleran argues.

William and Mary knows its peer schools have medical schools, but that doesn't mean it needs one.

Geography has been a key part of ODU's pitch for a merger with EVMS, along with the school's deep roots in science and engineerin.

Weinblatt says ODU is not a perfect partner, either.

'Would you like to see Old Dominion in terms of its endowment, in terms of its history, in terms of its prestige, be more established? Yes, but more of the key factors indicate Old Dominion seems to be a better fit,' Weinblatt believes.

For now, the schools are studying the feasibility and finances of a possible merger while focusing on developing collaborative programs and expanding existing ones.

As for a timetable for a possible merger, don't expect it anytime soon. The General Assembly will need to weigh in and that's not likely to happen before the 2015 session.

Weinblatt says the longer a decision like this takes, the more critics begin to pick apart any deal. Drag your feet too long, you can stumble and fall, he cautions.

'Let the best ideas emerge. We're not in competition with ODU nor are they in competition with us,' William and Mary Provost Michael Halleran says.

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