Pomp and circumstance at Towson University

The Education Beat

Ceremony: The school celebrates the inauguration of its 11th president.

March 17, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

HIGHLIGHTS OF Mark L. Perkins' inauguration Friday as Towson University's 11th president:

Oldest Graduate: Mary Chiswell, Class of 1922, headed the parade of alumni and carried the $25,000 presidential medallion to the stage. Chiswell is 99.

Most inspired invocation: Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat, president of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland, delivered the opening prayer in Arabic and English.

Funniest closing prayer: The Rev. William T. Perkins, Perkins' older brother, brought down the house. "For those of us who fought over the changing of Mark Perkins' diapers," he said, "we never thought we'd see him dressed as pretty as he is today."

Most inspired speaker invitation: Earl S. Richardson, president of Morgan State University, which often is a bitter Towson rival, was gracious and collegial in his remarks.

Most excusable speaker absence: Katharine C. Lyall, president of the University of Wisconsin system, was slated to greet the man who left the chancellorship of the Green Bay campus to take the reins at Towson. She couldn't make it. The financial crisis afflicting Wisconsin's 26 campuses is deeper than Maryland's. The system suspended undergraduate admissions a few days ago and imposed an across-the-board hiring freeze Wednesday.

Best speaker: Perkins. He has a preacher-like delivery that's quite becoming. Maybe he learned from his brother. But as is usually the case with inauguration and commencement addresses, the world will little note nor long remember what Perkins said.

Most enthusiastic greeting: Not surprisingly, Hoke L. Smith, Perkins' predecessor, registered highest on the applause meter. Smith was eased into retirement by some of the people on the stage with him Friday, but he made numerous friends during his 22-year presidency. (In a nice touch, Smith and his predecessor, James L. Fisher, slipped the medallion over Perkins' head.)

Sole reference to Towson's $1.4 million presidential mansion in Guilford: R. Michael Gill, speaking for the university Board of Visitors, likened the visitors group to Perkins' "kitchen Cabinet." He added quickly, "I guess I'd better be careful about references to houses."

Most hyperbole: House Speaker Cas Taylor referred to Towson as the "beautifully jeweled crown of Maryland higher education."

Best last sight: Demonstrators for a "fair wage" among Towson's lowest-paid workers put aside their picket signs and happily shared in the sweets and soft drinks served at an after-inauguration reception.

`Balanced literacy' theme sounded at reading council

Maryland's reading teachers, 1,324 of them, to be exact, gathered at Hunt Valley last week to exchange notes, listen to authors and experts and be courted by educational publishers.

"Balanced literacy" seemed to be the dominant theme this year at SOMIRAC, which sounds like a sleeping pill but is the acronym for the State of Maryland International Reading Association Council.

The "balance" in "balanced literacy," I've come to realize, is open to wide interpretation. Some approaches to reading instruction are balanced like a seesaw, with equal weight given to direct instruction of phonics and exposure to literature.

Other approaches are balanced like a diving board, with kids vaulted into the pool of literature with very little direct instruction.

At one SOMIRAC session, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick reported the results of a statewide poll of students' attitudes about reading. Grasmick's department asked kids from kindergarten through high school what they think about reading, how they choose books, what they like and don't like, and whether they can remember learning to read.

Even very young children, Grasmick said, recognize "the value inherent in reading. ... Reading is so critical to children's feelings of academic empowerment and success." But motivation becomes a major problem as kids get older, Grasmick said, and the survey found motivation a particular problem among boys of all school ages.

Moving memorial service for a pioneer in reading

More than 200 people attended the Quaker memorial service for Margaret Byrd Rawson last weekend at Hood College in Frederick. Rawson died in the fall at age 102 after helping generations of young people overcome the reading disorder dyslexia, and several traveled hundreds of miles to attend the service.

They joined family and friends in remembering Rawson's life in three centuries. But the most inspiring testimonials came from men in their 60s whom Rawson tutored a half-century ago when only she and a few others understood the reading disorder.

These men stood, wept and said Rawson had saved their lives.

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