Smith willing to be interim Towson head

University's ex-president suggested by Schaefer

April 11, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Less than a year after being urged into retirement by the state university system's Board of Regents, Hoke L. Smith said yesterday that he would consider returning as interim president of Towson University to rescue a campus left leaderless after the forced resignation of his successor, Mark L. Perkins.

Perkins resigned Monday under pressure from the regents over Towson spending nearly $2 million on its new presidential mansion. His sudden departure has rocked the 16,000-student campus, coming less than one year into Perkins' tenure -- a tenure that was supposed to transform Towson into a high-profile powerhouse within the university system.

Smith, who is teaching at the University of Maryland, College Park, said he would not actively seek the interim job. He retired last year under pressure for, among other things, advocating that Towson leave the 11-campus system in protest of being overlooked by the regents.

"So far, there is no offer for me to consider, but I would consider it," said Smith, 71.

Smith's comments came as former governor and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer sent a letter to regents Chairman Nathan A. Chapman Jr. urging the regents reappoint Smith.

"While not afforded the amenities of the outgoing president, Hoke Smith increased attendance at Towson and cared passionately about the students and the university," he wrote.

Schaefer repeated his endorsement yesterday at a Board of Public Works meeting, where he told Gov. Parris N. Glendening that Glendening "was partially at fault" for the Towson spending and called Smith's ouster last year a "dirty trick."

"Hoke Smith should be reinstated," Schaefer said. "He was a good man, and he knew what he was doing."

System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg, who played a role in Smith's retirement, declined to comment on Schaefer's suggestion.

The prospect of a return by Smith drew mixed reactions on campus yesterday, where faculty, students and administrators were struggling to recover from Perkins' ouster.

Communications Professor Richard Vatz said he would welcome Smith back. "The university is a strong ship that's been shaken by a bomb, and if you want a steadying influence as interim [president], that would be Hoke Smith," said Vatz.

Others weren't so sure, saying it was important for Towson to move forward and not fall back on a former leader, however popular he might have been.

"I have enormous respect for Hoke, but it's time to move on to a new person," said Moravene Loeschke, dean of fine arts and communications.

The debate over Smith highlights the problem Towson faces as it tries to overcome the mansion issue. Faculty and administrators say they disapprove of the spending on the house, but believe in some of Perkins' objectives, including raising Towson's profile with the public and lawmakers, something some say Smith didn't do.

At a wide-ranging forum attended by 150 faculty yesterday afternoon, many agreed that Towson must rebound quickly from the Perkins episode and remind the public, as Loeschke put it, that "Towson is much bigger than this brouhaha." In particular, they said, Towson needed to do a better job of spreading its reputation for strong teachers.

"We have to keep up our momentum. If we just keep up with our rage, [the regents] will win," said political science Professor James Roberts. "We have to use this to talk about the resources we need."

At the same time, faculty remained bitter about the regents' decision to oust Perkins without consulting them. One professor accused Langenberg of a "condescending" attitude toward Towson. On Tuesday night, the faculty senate issued a vote of no-confidence in the regents for not involving Towson in the Perkins decision, and demanded more say in the search for the next president.

"The whole paternalistic attitude is what outrages the senate," Vatz said. "It really makes us seem like children, and sets our teeth on edge."

In the system's defense, Langenberg told the faculty gathering yesterday that the Towson community had a limited role in last year's search for Perkins because of the need to keep it confidential. If the search had been open, he said, it wouldn't have generated strong candidates.

"The most important thing for [people at Towson] is to keep their eye on the academic ball," Langenberg said. "That's what will make or break Towson University. None of the current unfortunate events can compromise that."

Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

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