Langenberg's Rocky Year

June 23, 1991

It's been an uncomfortable rookie year for University of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg. He took over the state's 11-campus university system last July just as the bubble burst on Maryland's economy. Then he rubbed the governor the wrong way. And finally, he touched off a round of academic paranoia at College Park.

Yet through it all, Dr. Langenberg has remained unruffled. Adjusting to Maryland's politically charged higher education scene has not been easy for the 59-year-old physicist after his previous success in melding two urban campuses into the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Almost immediately after the new chancellor's arrival, he had the distasteful chore of reducing UM's budget by $80 million. Much of the past two year's momentum to improve UM's academic standing ground to a halt. When he dared to state publicly that these cuts would harm the university's progress, Gov. William Donald Schaefer took it as a personal affront. Instead of giving the new chancellor support and guidance, Governor Schaefer xTC turned his back on him.

This churlish, shortsighted action encouraged sniping at the isolated chancellor by legislators and academics. They sensed weakness in Dr. Langenberg's quiet, thoughtful approach after the frenetic years of former Chancellor John S. Toll.

But the new chancellor persevered. He slowly gained support of key legislators. He ended a bitter, long-running feud among doctors at the School of Medicine, University Hospital and Shock Trauma Center with all parties singing his praises. His surprise choice of Errol L. Reese to run UM's Baltimore professional schools brought peace to the divided campus. And he won over the governor, despite eight months of brooding silence.

Along the way, Dr. Langenberg did not hesitate to plunge into controversy. He proposed a new institution for agricultural research that hit a sensitive nerve at College Park. He also said he intends to make sweeping changes to tie competing campuses closer together.

When Dr. Langenberg is formally inaugurated as chancellor in Baltimore this Wednesday, he will set out his vision for the University of Maryland. Much depends on his ability to gain consensus for his reforms from the varied campus constituencies.

We have been favorably impressed by Dr. Langenberg's performance. He has proved to be a patient learner and bridge-builder. Yet if he is to succeed at UM, he must be given time and unqualified support from the governor. He has earned both during a difficult rookie year.

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