Maryland's colleges keep leaders longer

Longevity: Although the average term for a college president is seven years nationwide, Maryland has a tradition of higher education executives who stay awhile.

January 31, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

They came to Maryland as young men, perhaps on the cusp of middle age, taking their first job in what was becoming a highly volatile profession -- college presidencies.

Though once the province of pipe-smoking intellectuals given to pontificating on weighty issues, the top job at universities and colleges was becoming a hot seat as these men took their jobs.

If it's not highly politicized students taking over your office, it's a meddlesome board of trustees looking over your shoulder and incessant pressure to raise more money. Nationwide, the average tenure of college presidents is seven years.

But somehow Maryland is an oasis of continuity, with a group of six whose terms in office range from 15 to 30 years -- H. Mebane Turner at the University of Baltimore; Calvin W. Burnett at Coppin State College; Fred Lazarus at Maryland Institute, College of Art; Hoke L. Smith at Towson University; Earl S. Richardson at Morgan State University; and Robert H. Chambers at Western Maryland College.

"It must be something in the water," Turner said with a smile, still the picture of the Virginia gentleman who became president of the University of Baltimore in 1969.

He might be on to something, as Maryland seems to have a tradition of long terms in these offices. Among recent retirements, William P. Hytche lasted 36 years at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore; Carolyn Manuszak 34 years at Villa Julie College; Rhoda M. Dorsey 21 years at Goucher College; Kathleen Feeley 21 years at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland; and Martha E. Church 20 years at Hood College.

Towson University's Smith said he doesn't think this is a coincidence. "Maryland is the type of place that believes in stability," he said. "You look around and see there have been a lot of people in public office for a long time. It's got a different psychology from places that throw people out."

When Turner arrived at the University of Baltimore, it was a private institution dominated by undergraduates. Now it's a public institution dominated by graduate students.

"I've enjoyed being here," Turner said. "It's really been a wonderful experience for me."

Turner edges out Burnett of Coppin State College for longevity.

"It has been professionally satisfying for me," Burnett, 67, said of his almost 30 years. "You set a particular time to move on -- five years, 10 years -- then another project comes along, you stay until that one's done. You keep doing that and look up and you've been here 30 years."

Lazarus arrived at Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1978 at age 36, a surprise choice from the National Endowment for the Arts who brought none of the usual academic credentials.

"The board of trustees asked me to promise to stay for five years and I was very reluctant to do that," he said. "I was still young enough that I saw my life in three- to five-year chunks. I certainly didn't think I'd be here 20 years."

Smith, 68, who will retire next year, went to Towson University -- then Towson State College -- a year after Lazarus arrived in town.

"You had to redefine the presidency every two or three years," Smith said, saying he raised standards, then the national standing of Towson. That was followed by dealing with the then-new University of Maryland System and the recession that crippled planned funding increases in the early 1990s. Now, he said, is the era of higher expectations with additional funding from the state.

The state system does not have a mandatory retirement age for its presidents.

Taking time off

The newest member of this longevity club is Western Maryland's Chambers. He is marking 15 years on the job -- one fewer than Richardson, 56, at Morgan State University -- by taking a semester-long sabbatical.

"I've always believed that if you are on a road, you should stay on that road until something more interesting comes along," said Chambers, 60, who said he has considered other jobs.

"I realize there is something to this legacy stuff," he said. "I have helped build a community here, I am part of it, with people I like who like me.

"Why leave all that for someplace else, when the phone rings 15 minutes after you get there and it's the board chairman who wants to micromanage you, and then you discover skeletons in the closets you didn't even know existed and all sorts of other problems?"

Development brings pride

Turner, 69, has a slide show of the development in the area around the University of Baltimore, including one from before his arrival showing North Charles Street south of Mount Royal Avenue. "It's nothing but one bar after another," he said.

He contrasted that with the current view, one building after another, new or renovated, filled with divisions of his school. The last slide is a picture of a young Meb Turner in one of his first years as president, pointing to a map of the area, talking about development plans.

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