New campus presidents arrive

Towson U., Goucher leaders hope to raise profiles of schools

July 06, 2001|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The beginning of July is usually a quiet time on college campuses, but for two of them this is a time for fanfare and the welcoming of new presidents -- Mark L. Perkins at Towson University and Sanford J. Ungar at Goucher College.

At Towson, there were balloons, a red carpet and the tiger mascot. At Goucher, there were banners, flags and free ice cream. And although the scenes that greeted them were similar, the two men come across as different as the schools they will lead.

Ungar -- gray-bearded and soft-spoken -- comes to Goucher, a small liberal arts college, from the Voice of America after a career always connected to journalism.

Perkins -- clean-shaven and upbeat -- comes to Towson, a sprawling, comprehensive university, from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay after a career in higher education administration.

Ungar takes over a school clearly pleased to have him, replacing the popular Judy Jolley Mohraz, who left a year ago to head a foundation in Arizona. Perkins arrives at a school that is a bit nervous about its first change at the top in two decades, replacing Hoke L. Smith, who headed Towson since 1979.

But both have similar missions -- to raise the profiles of their schools.

"This is just great," Ungar, 55, said, conspicuous in a gray suit as he stood amid about 200 casually attired people who attended the ice cream reception to meet the new leader.

"My wife told me I had to wear a suit on my first day," he explained.

Ungar's first day Monday was probably unusually quiet, as Goucher's phone system was in the midst of an overhaul and not working.

"They gave me this cell phone," he said, looking at the device in the pocket of his suit jacket. "But I must have it on mute or something. I've got to figure out how it works."

Perkins was also in a suit on his first day, noticeably adorned with a black-and-gold Towson tie and lapel pins. "You've got to wear the colors if you can find them," he said. "And I found them."

Once Perkins was finished with the ceremonial welcome on his first day, it was off to the headquarters of the University System of Maryland in Adelphi for several meetings.

"It reminded me of meetings of systems in other states," said Perkins. "It's people trying to figure out how to effectively maintain the quality of their institutions."

Perkins, 51, spent seven years as head of University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

He has also worked at the University of California-Stanislaus and Old Dominion University in Virginia. He said each of those schools were about 30 years old, much younger than Towson, which dates to 1866.

"You can feel the difference," he said. "Those places were in early adolescence. Towson is at least at the beginning of adulthood."

Perkins' public persona is a combination of preacher and cheerleader.

"This is an awesome institution," he said. "My family and I are delighted to be here."

Perkins, his wife, Carolyn, and their younger daughter, Diana, are moving into temporary quarters while the school searches for a house for the president and his family. Their older daughter, Patricia, recently graduated from Vanderbilt University law school and is studying for the bar exam in North Carolina.

Perkins said that at Patricia's Vanderbilt commencement, the undergraduate schools of each graduate were announced. And there, amid the Harvards and Browns and Columbias, he heard the name Towson.

"It was a young African-American," he said. "I went up afterward, met him and his family. I was excited and they were excited. That's the way people feel about Towson."

Ungar's quarters -- the president's house on the Goucher campus -- will not be ready for him until next month, so he will continue to commute from Chevy Chase. The family will maintain that household, because his wife, Beth, has a medical practice in Washington, where their son Philip is entering his senior year in high school. A daughter, Lida, is at Williams College in Massachusetts.

"I'm holding off until I hear what he has to say, but I think it's an exciting time," said Amanda Thom-Woodson, chair of the dance department, who brought her children Matthew, 3, and Hannah, 6, to have ice cream and meet the new president. "I think it's exciting to have somebody of his background."

Ungar headed Voice of America for two years. He spent his early career in journalism -- including two years as a host of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" -- before becoming dean of American University's School of Communications in 1986.

Robert Welch, interim president since Mohraz left, yielded the reins last week. Dressed informally and smiling broadly at the reception, he said he has spoken often with Ungar over the past few months.

"We talked about issues that came up, decisions that had to be made," said Welch, who will join the Goucher philosophy department. "I had to make them, but I have to say he agreed with me on all of them.

"Some of my colleagues might not be so pleased to hear that," he added with a laugh.

Ungar continued working the crowd like a slightly introspective politician, talking about academics with faculty, complimenting the grounds crew on the landscaping and discussing educational philosophy with the auditorium sound technician.

"This is just wonderful," he said.

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