Salisbury State University President Thomas A. Bellavance announced his retirement yesterday afternoon because, he said, he had lost the "moxie" necessary to lead the school after 15 years on the job.
Since his arrival at the Eastern Shore campus in 1980, Dr. Bellavance is credited with boosting Salisbury from a second-rate school to a respected regional college with a no-nonsense approach to fulfilling campus needs.
Colleagues praised him less for overhauling the campus, with new buildings and a sharply improved landscaping scheme, than for raising standards in admitting students and hiring faculty.
"He has just done a masterful job for Salisbury State University, and for the Salisbury community and the Eastern Shore in general," said University of Baltimore President H. Mebane Turner, dean of the state's campus chiefs. "He has built the student body up to probably what is the strongest student body of any public campus in Maryland."
In addition, Dr. Bellavance was hailed for shoring up relations with the surrounding region and attracting unusually large amounts of private dollars to the public campus. The university now boasts three endowed colleges -- an unusual trait among public universities -- and a larger endowment than any other comprehensive university in the state.
Dr. Bellavance, 61, oversaw the transition of the one-time teachers school from college to university in 1988, when it joined the reconstituted University of Maryland System.
His resignation will take effect at the end of this semester, at which time he will formally go on "special assignment" as a consultant to the University of Maryland Board of Regents until next summer. Salisbury State Provost K. Nelson Butler, the campus' chief academic officer, will serve as the school's interim president until a permanent one is named, Dr. Bellavance said.
For more than a year, Dr. Bellavance has received chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer. Since last fall, his shaved head -- he has removed what hair did not fall out from the treatment -- has become a familiar presence at Salisbury and off campus.
Nonetheless, Dr. Bellavance said, his decision was entirely unrelated to the cancer -- a disease he believes was caused by his almost incessant cigarette smoking, which he indulges to this day. For now, the cancer appears to be under control, he said.
"I don't feel that I have, anymore, any moxie left in my bottle," Dr. Bellavance said. "I am not giving the institution the kind of leadership that I would expect of a president.
"I've been thinking about it for at least three or four months. I was waiting for a change, hoping simply that it was the medication."
But he did not feel the wanted spark, he said. He first publicly announced his decision at a faculty senate meeting yesterday afternoon.
Dr. Bellavance becomes the third public college president in Maryland to announce a resignation this year, after St. Mary's College's Edward T. Lewis and William P. Hytche, of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
It is with Dr. Hytche that Dr. Bellavance's name is most closely linked among the state's higher- education figures. In the wake of movement toward meaningful integration in the 1970s and 1980s, many state officials argued that UMES and Salisbury State -- one campus historically black, the other overwhelmingly white -- should be merged. Others suggested that one of the two be closed entirely.
The long-serving Dr. Hytche, president at the Princess Anne campus for two decades, was joined by Dr. Bellavance in a canny alliance to preserve the two campuses separately. Rather than becoming a single school, they have developed collaborative enterprises, including two dual-degree programs, and have agreed to chip away at overlapping programs.
Yet under Dr. Bellavance's leadership, Salisbury State has forged a stronger presence in the region than it ever had before, becoming host to a public radio station, a local symphony and a center for regional history. Now he said he will travel to see his four children, scattered around the nation, and retire to his woodworking, to emerge occasionally to comment on higher-education issues.