New chief crams on Goucher culture

August 31, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Goucher College's new president is in a crash course called Goucher 101.

Classes for students open today, but Judy Mohraz began hers on July 1, when she started as the new president of the four-year liberal arts school in Towson.

"My first goal is to listen and learn from the community, and gather the sense of vision . . . to learn from people who love the college and have been part of it for many years and decades," she said.

Whether that means meeting with a 101-year-old alumna from Washington or inviting students home to the president's house for popcorn, she said making the adjustment has been both a happy and tense experience.

"The initial period of orientation has remarkable highs, becoming acquainted with the new community, and also moments of real anxiety," she said.

It has been a big adjustment for the 50-year-old historian. She spent 20 years -- her whole professional career -- at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she started as an assistant professor and advanced to associate provost. She specialized in the history of women in America from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

Her energetic attempt to learn and absorb the culture at Goucher College is impressive, said student Geoffrey Clapp, 21, of Bolton, Mass.

"There were things she openly admitted that she didn't know about and wanted to know," he said. "That gave you a good feeling that she wanted your opinion, that it wasn't a PR stunt."

For example, one day in August, Dr. Mohraz prowled the 280-acre campus, meeting with an instructor, a scholar, student affairs staff members, faculty members and an alumna. "Let's see, what else did I do?" she said. "I worked on some foundation proposals . . . that's the great fun of being a president. Every day changes."

Goucher is also changing. In 1986, during outgoing president Rhoda Dorsey's 21-year tenure, the longtime women's school began admitting men. They now account for 30 percent of Goucher's enrollment.

Seated in a spacious office lined with books and pictures of her family, wearing tinted glasses, a conservative but stylish beige jacket and skirt, and sensible three-quarter inch pumps, Dr. Mohraz described her agenda: finding new ways to make the school distinctive, raise money, and continue the adjustment to coeducation.

She said that educating both sexes gives Goucher "a very special opportunity to remember its roots and empower women in higher education," and spoke of "an environment committed to educating and empowering women and men together."

Marshall Terry, who succeeded Dr. Mohraz as associate provost at SMU, described her as a pioneer in that school's women's studies program and a role model for students, including his daughter, who recently began law school.

"It seems to me for a college such as Goucher making a transition [to co-education], she's very much a perfect choice," he said.

After three interviews, Dr. Mohraz was selected in February from a pool of 178 applicants. She is taking the helm of a 100-year-old school with 1,000 students and 160 faculty members that seems to have weathered years of financial and enrollment shortfalls, as well as what for many was a painful switch to coeducation.

Dr. Mohraz says she wants top-quality students and professors from all ethnic groups to consider the college as a place to study or teach.

"This is not simply a matter of making minority students feel at home here; it's also an educational opportunity for majority students. Diversity is not a minority issue; it's an issue for every member of the community," she said.

To diversify a student body that is 86 percent white and a faculty that is 96 percent white, and to attract more top scholars, Dr. Mohraz said she would invite high school guidance counselors to campus and encourage alumni and students' families to learn more about the school and talk about it.

"I think it will be a multipronged effort," she said. "I don't think it'll be a media blitz that occurs overnight."

Other things will take time, too, such as getting into the classroom. That won't happen until next year, when Dr. Mohraz said she hopes to teach a history course.

"We'll use Goucher College as a lens through which to understand some of the larger issues of American history" by examining the school's archives and interviewing elders from the Goucher community, she said.

Born Judy Mae Jolley, she grew up in an education-oriented family. Her mother, two aunts and grandmother were all teachers. But as teen-ager and then as an undergraduate at Baylor University, she thought she was bound for law school -- until she took a summer course at Harvard in American intellectual history.

"It was simply electrifying," she recalled. "I think I suddenly realized that my natural interest in history was a real passion, and the only way I could act on that passion was to go to graduate school."

She earned a Ph.D. in history in 1974 from the University of Illinois and joined the faculty at SMU that year.

At 30, she married fellow faculty member Bijan Mohraz, who has a doctorate in civil engineering and will soon start work at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg. The couple's youngest son, Jonathan, 16, is enrolled at Gilman School, while Andrew, 18, is a freshman at Northwestern University.

Her successor at SMU, Dr. Terry, said he already misses Dr. Mohraz's enthusiasm. "She made a tremendous contribution at SMU in terms of teaching and later in terms of administration," he said.

But Mr. Clapp, while admiring the new president's hands-on approach and willingness to interact with students, cautioned that it won't be all smooth sailing, even after she passes Goucher 101.

"She still has to prove herself in a lot of ways, and I think she knows that," he said. "I don't think she's coming in saying, 'Hey, I got the job, I'm the president.' I don't think her biggest battle is getting the job; her biggest battle is getting it right."

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