Changing of the College Guard

June 03, 1995

The frantic pressures of running a college are claiming another victim.

rTC Edward T. "Ted" Lewis, president of St. Mary's College for the past 12 years, announced that he would be stepping down next year at the age of 61. The reason? He wants to get away from the relentless demands of a college presidency before it ruins his second marriage.

Just as Mr. Lewis was pushing on the revolving door to get out, another veteran college leader was pushing to get in. John S. Toll, the frenetic former president and chancellor of the giant University of Maryland System, was named to run tiny Washington College in Chestertown. The job may have the same title as his previous one, but the demands are quite different.

Each man has made a significant contribution. Mr. Lewis gets deserved credit for spearheading a revolution that has made the 275-acre campus overlooking the St. Mary's River a top-rated public liberal arts school with a national reputation for a superior faculty and a quality academic and social atmosphere. He also emerged as a sterling fund-raiser, boosting private giving from $44,000 a year to $3.5 million annually. And he proved a quiet persuader, convincing nationally known figures to serve on the college's board of trustees.

Mr. Lewis had the vision to see St. Mary's as something special: a small, old-fashioned liberal arts institution that has kept tuition low because of its status as a public college. In the 1980s, he won a tough fight to make St. Mary's independent of the consolidated University of Maryland System. In recent years, he talked legislators into loosening bureaucratic and financial restraints in exchange for reduced state support. The deal has worked: St. Mary's continues to flourish, continues to attract more blue-collar and minority students, continues to draw outstanding professors and yet the state's financial obligations have diminished.

Meanwhile, Dr. Toll was casting about for a new challenge after UMS and an aborted effort to build the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas. Now he has the opportunity to do for Washington College what Ted Lewis achieved for St. Mary's College. The Chestertown school still has a solid regional reputation but it is a high-cost private school in need of a fatter endowment and a more focused vision. It will be Dr. Toll's assignment to improve the college's reputation among the region's students, to attract big donors and to elevate Washington College's status within academia.

We wish both men well in their endeavors, Mr. Lewis as he pursues new adventures and Dr. Toll as he tries to work his big-college magic on a picturesque campus of 836 students. As both can attest, running any college in this day and age is an intense, all-consuming challenge.

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