Elkins, who died last week at age 85, was never...


March 22, 1994

WILSON H. Elkins, who died last week at age 85, was never a popular figure at the University of Maryland, where he ruled for 24 years as its president. Yet he changed the course of UM dramatically. He saved it from becoming a backwater school famous only for its football teams.

What was the real "Bull" Elkins like? George H. Callcott, a UM professor and resident historian of the institution, edited Dr. Elkins' taped "memoirs" in 1981. Here's how Professor Callcott sized up UM's best president:

"Wilson Elkins is a quiet, formal man, almost laconic, with none of the volubility of the proverbial Texan. Vice presidents who worked in adjacent offices for 20 years still call him only 'Dr. Elkins,' and so of course do I. He is cautious in manner, slow to come to a firm opinion, but he does not change easily when he has made up his mind.

"People still call him 'The Bull' behind his back, to refer to his square-jawed resolution. Powerful ambition and total self-control lie behind his cool exterior, but after these things he is a simple man, without much mystery.

"There are no hidden layers of meaning in his speech or thinking. He is wary of intellectual constructs and clever phrases. He approaches administration and life itself with a direct, reasonable common sense. He knows exactly what he knows with perfect clarity, and he doesn't worry much about the rest. Here he stands. . .

"I think there is a unity to his career and convictions: the curious unity of athletics and education, of democracy and excellence. Colleges, like the playing fields, provide opportunity; and in colleges, as on the playing fields, mediocrity is weeded out and quality is recognized. His first convocation address at Maryland was entitled, 'A Quantity of Quality,' and he has returned to that theme repeatedly -- democracy and excellence, both; competition and victory."

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