Coppin State marks change in leadership

Newly installed president aims to alter perceptions of W. Baltimore college

October 04, 2003|By Matt Whittaker | Matt Whittaker,SUN STAFF

At an inauguration ceremony that included music, dignitaries, and a congratulatory welcome from President Bush, Coppin State College's new president urged students yesterday to look beyond the problems that could hold the school back and "go to work."

"There's a perception that Coppin can't perform," Stanley F. Battle said during a celebration marking his tenure as president of the West Baltimore college. "The only way to achieve is to show people."

Speaking to about a thousand people at the historically black college's James Weldon Johnson Auditorium, Battle addressed some of the issues facing the school.

"I believe that Coppin deserves the same resources as every institution in the state," he said. "Coppin can't be the last one in line. We can do something about that."

Battle suggested raising $50 from each alumnus to garner more than $300,000 for scholarship support. He called for giving "new energy and repair" to the community surrounding the college's 2500 North Ave. campus, an area of Baltimore that is 99 percent African-American.

The 52-year-old president told students to know where they come from and to be optimistic about where they're going. But he said they also should rejoice in the present.

"Class of 2004, ... understand it doesn't get any better than this," he told them.

Among those who spoke at the ceremony was City Council President Sheila Dixon, who told Battle that the city has high hopes for his tenure.

"We look forward to your vision and the challenge that you will give us at city government," Dixon said. The city wants the community around Coppin State to be revitalized, she added.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael. S Steele, one of the keynote speakers, said the college is a cornerstone of its community.

"As Coppin improves, West Baltimore will improve," Steele said. "Coppin must continue to build up the surrounding community."

The college offers 10 master's degree programs in fields such as nursing and education -- two programs mentioned throughout yesterday's ceremony -- and Battle said the college is discussing linking with Maryland General Hospital to provide opportunities for its nursing students.

Coppin State will build a satellite campus in Texas and is looking at starting a boarding school -- which will not be on campus -- with a college preparatory school to be opened in 2004, he said.

Battle is also instituting a furlough system instead of laying people off from the college, and the school is engaged with partners including City College.

"We've been very excited about the changes the fourth president is going to bring," said James Brown, the college's Staff Senate president. "The staff is going to support Dr. Battle."

Del. Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat who serves as Maryland House speaker pro tem, read a statement of support for Battle from the lawmaking body, and Leonard Spearman, a former U.S. ambassador to two African nations, read a congratulatory letter from President Bush.

Battle is the college's fourth president in the institution's 103-year history, and he comes at a critical time. Coppin State's average incoming SAT scores last year were the second-lowest among Maryland's public colleges and universities, and the school has struggled with low funding and disappointing graduation rates.

"Everybody knows that Coppin doesn't have certain things," Battle said of the school's lack of funding. But he remained optimistic, saying, "It is Coppin's time."

The new president, who arrived on campus in March to succeed the 32-year presidency of Calvin W. Burnett, has asked the state to approve changing the college's name to Coppin State University to win donations, talented faculty and students. That motion is expected to go to the legislature next year.

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