Sheldon H. Knorr, 62, commissioner of higher education in Md. for 14 years

March 21, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Sheldon H. Knorr, former Maryland higher education commissioner who led the state's campuses through a tough period of increasing standards while braking expansion, died of cancer Tuesday at his home in Davidsonville. He was 62.

For 14 years, he headed the Maryland Council for Higher Education and its successor, the state Board for Higher Education. He retired abruptly from the Cabinet-level post when the state's public colleges and universities were reorganized again in 1988.

Friends and former colleagues praised him as a quiet man who preferred mediation and negotiation to heavy-handed rule-making.

"He had an incredible understanding of all of the priorities of the institutions and their constituent groups," said Lucy Lapovsky, financial vice president at Goucher College, who worked for him for 13 years. "And he was able to merge them and match them with the state's political realities. He was the essence of a pragmatist."

Earl S. Richardson, president of Morgan State University, said: "He was an extremely decent man who did much for higher education in Maryland. He had to suffer a great deal of opposition when he supported an engineering program at vTC Morgan. In light of that program's success, Sheldon obviously had a great deal of foresight."

Dr. Knorr was no stranger to controversy. In 1979, he proposed merging the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the University of Baltimore and Morgan. The proposal met such stiff resistance that it immediately was rejected.

"I think he knew what he was doing," said Joseph Popovich, vice president for planning at Morgan, who was Dr. Knorr's research director. "He wanted to demonstrate that the idea would never fly, and he did that."

Dr. Knorr worked to enhance the state's historically black schools. To those who would close the traditionally black University of Maryland Eastern Shore, he advised, "You can't just tear something down. You have to have a rational alternative."

It was a statewide plan for higher education in the late 1970s that earned praise for him. Under the plan, admissions standards at all UM campuses were upgraded and controls were placed on enrollment at the huge flagship campus at College Park. The campuses also had to make a convincing case to the state board to receive approval for new academic programs.

Dr. Popovich praised Dr. Knorr for consistently checking the universities' expansion appetite. "It didn't make him popular among the presidents," he said.

When the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed a reorganization of the higher education system in 1988, Dr. Knorr publicly resisted and said he would quit if the plan were approved. When it was, the state's first and only higher education commissioner walked out on the last day of his 23rd year in state employment without informing the governor. Dr. Knorr was born and raised in Baltimore, graduating from Patterson High School. He attended what is now Towson State University for two years, served in the Army for two years and completed his degree in chemistry at the University of Maryland College Park in 1958.

He taught chemistry at High Point High School in Prince George's County until he won a fellowship in higher education at College Park, earning a doctorate in 1967. In 1965, he joined the Maryland Council for Higher Education.

He married Verna Maltrotti in 1955. They had lived in Davidsonville for 19 years but Mrs. Knorr said, "I don't think anyone could have loved Baltimore more than my husband."

A descendant of William Knorr, who fought in the Battle of North Point in 1814, Dr. Knorr was a board member of the Society of the War of 1812.

After his retirement, he taught education courses at Morgan until 1993. He was a former president of the National State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, former treasurer of the Education Commission of the States, a board member of the commission that accredits culinary colleges and a trustee of the Baltimore International Culinary College.

Dr. Knorr was an avid golfer. He also tended 2 acres of flowers and dogwoods at his home.

A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Saturday at John M. Taylor Funeral Home, 147 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis.

Other survivors include a brother, Dr. Norman J. Knorr of Ijamsville; a sister, Grace Resch of Glenarm; two nieces; and a nephew.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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