Focused on change at Coppin State

Leader: The new president has hit the ground running with plans including a move to modify the college's name.

April 21, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Stanley F. Battle, the new president of Baltimore's Coppin State College, arrives in a hurry, having taken care of business until the last minute.

His portfolio includes an adult lifetime of helping others, rescuing young African-Americans from the unforgiving streets, loving classical music and singing opera. He is lean and fit, with a flair for fashion and nice cars. He's intense - focused is how people put it politely.

Battle, 51, arrived at Coppin on March 3 to succeed retired President Calvin W. Burnett. Burnett, 70, had served 32 years, longer than any public college or university president in the country still in office. By definition, that's a tough act to follow, especially for a first-time president who worked his way up in teaching and administrative jobs at urban universities in Wisconsin and Connecticut.

"I didn't want to be a vice to anybody anymore," Battle said. "It was time to be president. And I don't want to take 10 years to bring about change. I could be dead by then. Coppin people want me to show them where we're at in three years. I have no choice."

To that end, Battle hit the ground in full stride, even before his wife of 28 years, professor and lawyer Judith L. Rozie-Battle, takes up residence in Baltimore.

For Coppin, the historically black college on West North Avenue, Battle already has plans.

He sees himself raising millions of dollars, tapping sources "people don't usually think of, such as churches." Much of the money would be returned to the community in the form of new scholarships for highly qualified candidates and those with lower grades but high potential. "We'll push them. We'll push the hell out of them," he said.

Battle is working on a plan to establish an "urban education corridor" in West Baltimore. The Coppin-operated Rosemont Elementary (the only public school in Maryland run by a college) would be an anchor, but middle and high schools would participate, and programs would include mentoring and after-school tutoring by Coppin faculty and staff members. "No one else in the country is doing that," Battle said, "and this school is ideally located for it."

Less than two months in office, Battle is polling staff and alumni with an eye toward changing the 3,500-student school's name to Coppin University or Coppin State University. Such a move would remove the last of the "colleges" from the University System of Maryland and leave only one four-year public college in the state - St. Mary's in Southern Maryland.

But some object. "I think it would be a terrible mistake," said Melvin A. Bilal, chairman of the college's Board of Visitors.

Burnett's innate modesty never led him to seek university status, though Coppin does have some master's degree programs. "Being a university," said the new president, "changes the psychology on campus. It fosters pride in what you do, among both faculty and students. ... I've noticed that Coppin people have felt cheated. In some regards, they're fighting for worthiness."

`We have to give hope'

In a wide-ranging interview, Battle referred to Coppin as "an oasis," "a gold mine" and "ground zero." He said he'd been struck by the serene, secure nature of the campus, "which is surrounded north, south, east and west by troubled neighborhoods. I sit here in mid-afternoon and watch the police helicopters circling, and that sets the tone for what's to come later in the day. It tells me everybody's not involved. We have to give hope, structure, confidence and certainly education to an entire part of the city of Baltimore."

Chancellor William E. Kirwan, who led the search for the university system's Board of Regents, called Battle "one of those rare persons whose academic expertise and interests seem perfectly aligned with the mission of the institution."

As vice chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Battle was credited with raising more than $1 million in scholarship funds to enable dozens of minority students to attend college. He recruited more than 500 African-American males to become mentors.

In Milwaukee, Battle worked directly with the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, the civil rights leader whose code of conduct for human rights and equal opportunity was credited with helping end apartheid in South Africa. Sullivan's photo hangs behind Battle's desk at Coppin.

"We used to call Sullivan `The Doc,'" Battle said. "The highlight of my career was watching him work. Just to try to understand his commitment and passion was thrilling. Outside my immediate family, he and David G. Carter are the two most influential men in my formation."

Carter is in his 16th year as president of Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, where Battle was associate vice president for academic affairs before moving to Wisconsin.

"His values are so clear," Carter said of his protege, "that you know that whatever he's doing, it's for the right reason. He's the only person I know that if he called me tomorrow and needed help, I'd be on the next plane at no cost to him."

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