Kirwan coming `home' to UM

Ex-College Park chief to take over as chancellor Aug. 1

March 26, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

William E. Kirwan, the former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, accepted yesterday the state university system's offer to become its next chancellor, sealing his return to the state he left four years ago.

Kirwan, president of Ohio State University, announced his decision after a weekend spent mulling the move at his family's vacation house at Deep Creek Lake. He will assume oversight of the University System of Maryland's 13 institutions and $2.5 billion operating budget Aug. 1.

In a prepared statement, Kirwan, 63, said his decision to leave Ohio State after four years was driven largely by personal concerns, noting that much of his family lives in Maryland, where he arrived in College Park as a math professor in 1968.

"I firmly believe that one can go home again," said Kirwan, best known by his nickname "Brit." "In some ways, Patty [his wife] and I have never left Maryland since our children and grandchildren and so many lifelong friends live here."

Kirwan's decision closes a lengthy and controversy-filled search to replace Donald N. Langenberg, who will retire at the end of April after nearly 12 years as chancellor. Vice Chancellor Joseph Vivona will act as interim system head until Kirwan takes over.

In November, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced his interest in the job in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, only to drop his candidacy a week later under criticism for seeking a job selected by regents he appointed. He haunted the search even after his withdrawal, as potential candidates held back from applying out of fear that he wasn't out of the picture.

Leading state lawmakers repeatedly mentioned Kirwan for the job, invoking his successful tenure as College Park president from 1989 to 1998, but for months Kirwan claimed to be content in Columbus. Last week, the Board of Regents offered him the position.

Kirwan will earn $375,000 per year (Langenberg's salary recently went up to $359,000 from $345,000, system officials say) and will have use of Hidden Waters, the chancellor's mansion in Baltimore County. Sources say regents have been negotiating additional compensation, possibly including stipends from seats on local corporate boards and supplemental pay from private fund raising.

Kirwan's decision drew thunderous applause in the House of Delegates, where it was announced yesterday by Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

"I think it's fantastic," said Taylor. "He is such a terrific educator and leader and has such depth of support that he will bring our system to a higher level."

Glendening also cheered the decision, saying in a statement that "there is no one who could be a more effective, more respected chancellor than Brit Kirwan."

The decision drew relief from regents, who were criticized for considering Glendening. Chairman Nathan A. Chapman Jr. called Kirwan the "ideal choice" for the job.

Added Regent Joseph D. Tydings, a former U.S. senator, "We had some pretty dark days earlier [in the search] but now things are very bright for the system. [Kirwan] is the right person, for the right time, for the right situation."

Others around the system welcomed the announcement while saying they were curious to see how Kirwan would function as chancellor. Before Kirwan left for Ohio State in 1998, they noted, he argued that Maryland should delegate more power to campus presidents, at the expense of the system headquarters he will now lead.

At the same time, those at campuses other than College Park said it would be interesting to see how Kirwan would balance his natural affinity for the state's flagship campus against the needs of the system's other branches.

"It's a good question to ask, how he can look objectively at the system having been so deeply involved in College Park, but the way I know him, he is eminently fair-minded," said Jack Fruchtman, a former president of the Towson University faculty senate. "I can see him strengthening all the branches - at least I hope so."

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a leading advocate for the system's smaller branches, expressed a similar hope. "It's very important that we all give the new chancellor support as he works to support us," he said.

Officials in Ohio expressed disappointment, but no resentment, that Kirwan will leave before implementing his five-year plan to improve Ohio State's academics, which he launched in 2000.

"We think the world of him," said Ohio State Board of Trustees Chairman David Brennan, who noted that Kirwan had a compensation package worth "substantially more" than his official $275,000 salary as Ohio State president. "He had family pressures, and we can't disagree with that."

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