Former UM president, Wilson H. Elkins, dies

March 18, 1994|By DeWitt Bliss | DeWitt Bliss,Sun Staff Writer

Wilson H. Elkins, president of the University of Maryland during a quarter-century of social change and dramatic growth, died of cancer early yesterday at the UM Medical Center in

Baltimore. He was 85.

Dr. Elkins presided over the institution from 1954 to 1978 -- a period that saw its racial integration, Vietnam War protests, the opening of the Baltimore County campus and creation of a statewide university system.

When he began his tenure, the university's reaccreditation had been delayed by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. The Phi Beta Kappa honorary society had refused to establish a chapter there.

At his retirement, UM not only had a chapter of the honorary society, but was a member of the Association of American Universities -- an organization composed of the nation's major research universities. Faculty tenure, sabbatical and governance systems had been established. Schools of social work and architecture had been opened, a faculty club established, and a new library had been built.

T. Benjamin Massey, president of the UM system's University College, which also was established by Dr. Elkins, described him as "a lifelong champion of an educated citizen" and "a leading force in higher education for almost three decades" -- and "really the guy who built the modern University of Maryland."

But Dr. Elkins himself, in a 1974 interview published in College Management Magazine, discounted a suggestion in the Washington Post that the university of the previous 20 years was his creation.

"I've had something to do with it," he said.

Louis L. Kaplan, a former chairman of the university's Board of Regents, described Dr. Elkins as a "fundamentally modest person" who did not put on acts to show his importance.

Dr. Elkins built up not only the university, but its standards of academic excellence. In 1961, UM refused entrance to 144 graduates of Maryland high schools -- the first time such students who did not meet university standards had not been admitted if their parents insisted.

Retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Mary Arabian, a current regent who also served during the Elkins years, described him as a "wonderful leader," and a "remarkable" and scholarly man whose influence over the school continued into the 1990s.

Within the past six months, she said, Dr. Elkins had testified in opposition to a proposal before the regents -- one that was dropped in part because of his testimony.

"He was very effective," she said, "You do not expect someone to come back from the distant past."

Dr. Elkins' administration included the turbulent years of student demonstrations, when Maryland students took over U.S. 1 three times between 1968 and 1972 in anti-war demonstrations that eventually brought the National Guard to the College Park campus.

Dr. Massey said Dr. Elkins had "a calm demeanor" during that era of protest, "but was forceful when he had to be. He consulted broadly but never shirked making the decision."

Born in Medina, Texas, Dr. Elkins was a 1932 graduate of the University of Texas where he had served as president of the student body, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and won eight varsity letters in football, basketball and track.

He also received a master's degree there and, as a Rhodes Scholar, earned a bachelor's degree in literature and his doctorate at Oxford University in England.

Before coming to Maryland, he had been president in Texas of San Angelo Junior College and Texas Western College, a branch of the University of Texas.

His first wife, the former Dorothy Blackburn, died in 1971.

He is survived by his wife, the former Vivian Noh Andrews; two daughters, Carol Neal of University Park and Margaret Frost of Reading, Conn.; two stepsons, Bruce Andrews of New York City and Tom Andrews of Lyons, Colo; six grandchildren and a great-grandson.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. March 28 in College Park Chapel.

Memorial donations may be made to the Wilson Elkins Professorship at the University of Maryland Foundation, Metzerot Road, Adelphi 20783.

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