Towson preps for a crunch

A Conversation With: Hoke L. Smith

April 10, 2001

Towson University President Hoke L. Smith spoke recently at The Sun with Richard C. Gross, editor of the Opinion

Commentary page, about Towson and Maryland's university system in general.

Where is Towson in the Maryland University System?

Towson has consistently been ranked in the top 10 institutions in the public sector of its type in the North. That's appropriate and is going to increase. The University of Maryland system is very similar. It's on the verge of being ranked in the top in a number of areas, but you have to realize it's a relatively new system.

How would you compare the Maryland University system with other state university systems?

We are a centralized system, but remarkably decentralized in operation. We are very similar to a lot of systems that are decentralized in how, for example, I run the institution, and it's much like running a private school.

Is Maryland's system too decentralized?

Not by my standards. No, I don't think so. There may be some who think so, but because I believe higher education functions better in a decentralized, competitive environment, I think we're in a good place.

Is there a money crunch coming? If so, what's that going to mean?

I'm afraid that there is a money crunch coming. It will be difficult. The demands of recruiting new faculty to replace the baby boom faculty, to handle the demographic expansion, to deal with the technological development of the high cost of technology are all going to put pressure on the universities and colleges. It looks as though the economy is slowing down.

I have $4 million worth of requests that I'm going to have to cut out -- and they're not superfluous requests -- to make it fit within the budget, and it's a good budget. It's far from a zero sum budget. We're talking about the governor having been very generous with higher education.

What does a money crunch mean for the number of students in the university system?

It probably means that we will not be able to expand, although during the early 1990s recession, which coincides with the demographic dip, we didn't cut students because of lack of money. We used alternative ways -- part-time faculty, expanding classes. It does mean it will be more difficult to provide financial aid and more difficult to expand if we have another serious money crunch.

Towson is at 17,000 students. Are there plans for Towson to expand?

We had plans for it to expand to 25,000 to accommodate the echo baby boom. However, we did not get the buildings in time to probably do that expansion. What we are now planning to do is stabilize enrollment until we get additional space and then, as we get additional space, expand slowly. So I would say we'll make 20,000 by late in the decade.

What makes a good university?

There used to be, a long time ago, a woman by the name of Pearl Mesta who was a famous party-giver, and she said, "Good company, peanuts and bourbon." What makes a good university is good people and an intellectual atmosphere -- good faculty, good students and an administration which nurtures them and permits them, fosters them and encourages them to do what they should do. And after that, it's human development -- to develop the students, develop faculty and the discovery and validation of new knowledge. What makes it is supporting people and doing what is at the heart of the university.

Would you say Towson qualifies as a good university?

Yes, I would. I was very flattered when I got a commemorative from some of the faculty for my work in nurturing the faculty. And I knew that that was a very high compliment, because they meant -- it meant to me -- that I had supported them in doing what they felt they should be doing.

Are there faculty outside of Maryland who want to teach at Towson?

Yes, we have been recruiting. It varies by fields, and some fields are short in supply of doctorates. But we have been very attractive. We have been able to recruit very well, because there are a number of faculties who want a Towson rather than a research university. Because they are committed to the teaching, they want to be involved in scholarship, but they want a different emphasis to their lives than the kind that you have in the research industry. So we can recruit very good faculty.

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