UB begins new era in leadership

Lawyer turned president aims for action, change

August 30, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

When Robert L. Bogomolny agreed to assume the presidency of the University of Baltimore after retiring from his executive position at a large pharmaceutical company, he knew he was in for a change.

He might just not have realized how big.

His new office is a small converted classroom in a former athletic club that looks out over the Jones Falls Expressway and the construction work on the Charles Street bridge. His office furniture - several weeks late in arriving - cost about $20,000, a third of what it cost to outfit his office at the headquarters in Skokie, Ill., of G.D. Searle & Co., the pharmaceutical giant where Bogomolny was general counsel for 14 years.

The computer on his desk frequently freezes up, and reading e-mail requires a few more clicks of the mouse than it should.

Unlike at Searle, a $22 billion corporation that was bought last year by Pharmacia, Bogomolny feels he is at a place small enough that he could make a difference.

"The economics of a state university and a multinational corporation that does billions of dollars worth of sales are a bit different," Bogomolny said. "But I think this is going to be more fun."

Bogomolny, 63, has been on the job less than a month, but his mere arrival marks a huge change for the Mount Royal Avenue campus. He succeeds H. Mebane Turner, who retired last month after nearly 33 years as president, a tenure so long that the school came to be identified with the dapper Virginian known for his bow ties and Southern charm.

Bogomolny inherits a university that has, because of Turner's skilled real estate dealing, greatly increased its presence in midtown Baltimore, expanding from three properties on 2.4 acres in 1970 to 40 properties on 14 acres today.

The university is not lacking for challenges. Part of the state university system since 1975, the school is known for serving adults returning to college. About 4,600 full- and part-time students are divided among its law school, business school and college of liberal arts.

The ranks of nontraditional college students are expanding nationally, but the university has struggled with lagging enrollment, particularly at the undergraduate level and among business students. Last year, the school graduated 462 students with bachelor's degrees, down from 690 in 1992, and its professional degrees awarded fell from 286 to 238. However, the number of master's degrees conferred jumped from 295 to 498 over that time.

In Bogomolny's view, the university is suffering from a perception problem: Few people know about the quality of programs at the school, which lacks the kind of inviting campus that many other colleges offer. In an effort to correct the perception, he plans to improve the university's contacts with area community colleges, which are providing the university with fewer transfer students.

He also hopes to create a board of visitors to involve more community leaders in the school. "This place is very badly understood," he said. "We've got to build new constituencies, and the way you do that is broaden the number of people who know what you are."

Academically,, Bogomolny has visions of equipping the university with services geared for students with physical and learning disabilities. He is also enthusiastic about the law school's plans for a new center focused on applying new theories of "therapeutic law" to family law.

Though he plans to continue the university's emphasis on career-oriented courses, he doesn't want the school to lose sight of its liberal arts ethos.

"Career education is necessary, but careers change and lives shift, and it's important to have an education in the life values that stay with you no matter what you're doing," he said.

Bogomolny is a good example of that. A native of Cleveland and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he taught law at Southern Methodist University and served as dean of the law school at Cleveland State University before moving to Searle.

After Searle's sale last year, he took a year off to decide on his next step. . Approached by the university's search committee, he visited the campus and liked what he saw, a school that reminded him of Cleveland State, in a city that reminded him of his hometown.

Most important, he thought he saw ways that he could improve the school in a relatively short amount of time. "There's enough good going on here that it's not hopeless, but it's also a place that's receptive to change," said Bogomolny, who will earn $210,000 a year, plus $35,000 in car and housing stipends.

University officials say Bogomolny is making his presence felt fast. One afternoon recently, he met with the law school dean, members of the university's foundation board and Mayor Martin O'Malley, with whom he discussed the possibility of retraining city prosecutors at the law school.

"There already is some of what you'd hope for in a leadership change, a new sense of energy, a sense of getting people to revisit assumptions about how things are done here," said Ron Legon, the university's provost. "It's a more action-oriented approach, a sense of urgency in making changes that perhaps comes out of his business experience. Things have tended here, and throughout academia, to move at a leisurely pace."

Bogomolny still finds some aspects of working at a small public university frustrating. For instance, he is expected to be preparing the budget for the 2004 fiscal year.

"The problems here are as immediate as in the corporate world, but the time frame is much different," he said.

He was also slightly irked to return to his office and find a note saying that a local resident wanted him to do something about ashes blowing out of a campus building that caught fire recently.

"What do you think?" Bogomolny joked. "Is this really the best use of my time?"

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