Kaplan's abiding devotions

January 14, 2001|By Donald N. Langenberg

MARYLAND LOST a giant in the recent passing of Louis L. Kaplan. He touched the lives of millions of people here and around the world, many of whom may never have heard of him, but whose lives were made better because of his work.

I first heard of Mr. Kaplan in 1988, when I arrived in Maryland as the new chancellor of the state's university system. I was visiting as many people as I could to better understand the state and its expectations of the university system. In the course of those meetings -- with educators, business leaders, elected officials and others -- I heard the name Louis Kaplan over and over again. It was always spoken with a mixture of awe and respect. Over the past 12 years, I've come to understand why.

His 40-year tenure as president of Baltimore Hebrew University, his chairmanship of the University of Maryland Board of Regents and his service as interim chancellor of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County exemplify his deep devotion to education.

His 1971 address at the dedication of a building for the dental school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore exemplified his belief that education is not an end in itself, but a means to an end -- helping our neighbor, our community and our world.

He said: "Within these stones and bricks, healing is to be administered, and no less important, human relationships developed between teachers and students and between students and patients. If ever patients are regarded as clinical material, this building will have been degraded and its use corrupted. We must never forget that the word patient comes from the Latin root which means to suffer. Clinical material does not suffer. Human beings do."

It's unfortunate the phrase "gentleman and a scholar" has become overused to the point of parody because I'm sure when the phrase was first used, its author had a person like Mr. Kaplan in mind.

He was a scholar of the fiercest sort, one whose breadth of knowledge was truly astonishing and whose intellect was guided by a strong moral compass and grounded in a love and respect for humanity. The resoluteness of his beliefs was coupled with a sense of humor, about himself and life, and a profound respect for others -- qualities, yes, of a gentleman.

Quite simply, ours is a better world because of Louis Kaplan's life and work.

Donald N. Langenberg is chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

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