30th-birthday bash finds UMBC as brash as ever Birthday: Much ado about 30 years? UMBC has always been somewhat presumptuous, but one advantage to kicking up your heels at a young age is that you can invite your parents.

The Education Beat

September 18, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE UNIVERSITY of Maryland Baltimore County is having a 30th birthday bash tomorrow, replete with fireworks, a bonfire, free excursions on the Internet and numerous other events to entertain and enlighten.

It seems a little overweening. Some anniversaries are worth shouting about. But 30? St. John's College in Annapolis is 300 this year, for heaven's sake. Even Hagerstown Junior College, the state's oldest community college, had some crowing to do recently when it turned 50.

But UMBC has always been that way -- presumptuous, a bit impertinent. It's a good way to show up somnolent competitors. Besides, there's an advantage to throwing yourself a party at such a tender age: You can invite your parents. And UMBC's founding fathers, plus a few mothers, will be there for the celebration.

Edward Orser, a professor of American studies at UMBC, is working on a video history of the school's early years on a state-owned farm along Wilkens Avenue in southwest Baltimore County. Politics, of course, dictated the site. UMBC probably should have been built downtown, adjacent to or close by the university's professional schools, but powerful forces in the legislature wanted Baltimore County, and university President Wilson H. Elkins didn't want a "skyscraper university."

Bulldozers were still at work when 750 freshmen and sophomores arrived for classes 30 years ago tomorrow. Elkins had dispatched his right-hand man, Albin O. Kuhn, to organize the university's new "branch" -- a word that infuriates UMBC partisans -- and Homer Schamp became the founding provost. Both, in retirement, can examine their handiwork.

"I thought I might be able to grow a university overnight," Schamp told Orser.

Schamp found it was much more difficult than that. It was also a heady time. Kuhn told his staff, recruited from the four corners of the nation, to climb as far out on the limb as they wanted. He said he'd try to rescue them if he saw the bough breaking.

"We didn't know what we were doing, and our efforts at curriculum development were not guided by experience," said Bill Rothstein, a sociologist who was there from the beginning.

Gail Williams Rouse was one of 19 blacks in the university's first class. She spoke of "everyone getting together and starting a place of equality." Today, UMBC's undergraduate student body

of 8,899 is 15.2 percent black, and its black students have among the highest SAT scores in the region.

Things have not always gone well. The original campus had the look of a minimum-security prison, and critics were only partly in jest when they suggested converting it to prison use. (The peripheral road was ideal.) Always in the shadow of the "flagship" at College Park -- and often confused with peers at the College Park campus -- UMBC administrators and professors bristled at the suggestion that they were anything but first rate. And certainly this was no "branch campus"!

UMBC has a different look and feel at its 30th birthday. Landscaping and additions, especially a spectacular new library named for Kuhn, make the campus much more amenable, and the president for three years, Freeman A. Hrabowski III, makes it much more exciting.

Hrabowski, 46, has the energy of Hoover Dam and the promotional instincts of P. T. Barnum. It was he who opened the library last year with fireworks and other hoopla and it will be he who does much the same thing tomorrow, most of it with money raised privately.

When he turns 66, Hrabowski probably will be retiring as president of Harvard or governor of Maryland. But if he's still at the helm of UMBC on its golden anniversary, one shudders to think of the bash.

Success for All

Still another national education report is out with bad news and sweeping recommendations. This one, released Monday by the Carnegie Corporation's Task Force on Learning in the Primary Grades, calls for reform of early-childhood education.

The educators are no longer inventing wheels. In fact, Success for All, developed by the Johns Hopkins University's Robert E. Slavin, is mentioned prominently by the Carnegie researchers as a program that works. Success for All concentrates on the early primary grades and operates on the assumption that all children can learn to read proficiently by the third grade. It's in use in about 300 schools in 24 states.

Researchers in the two-year Carnegie study also found approaches that "do not significantly improve teaching and learning." One is pulling students out of regular classrooms for short periods of remedial work. Another is the use of classroom aides.

Aides, also known as paraprofessionals, have been a fixture in Baltimore education for years and were a major part of the "Tesseract" experiment in school privatization that was terminated by the city in March.

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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