Course Of Action

University of Baltimore president Robert Bogomolny focuses his energy on renewing a sense of pride and purpose, no matter what budget crises arise.

January 05, 2004|By Gerald P. Merrell | Gerald P. Merrell,SUN STAFF

Robert Bogomolny and his best friend were both earning superb grades in elementary school but getting quite different responses to them at home.

His friend, Bobby, was given a dollar for every "E," the equivalent of an "A," on his report card.

"I would say ... Bobby got all this money for his grades," Bogomolny recalls. "And my father said, `You know, when you have the ability to do this kind of work ... that's what you're supposed to do. So I don't believe in giving you a special reward for doing something you're able to do.' "

Bogomolny didn't fully welcome the reply, but his father's impromptu lesson in work ethics more than a half-century ago stuck, and today it is one of his guiding principles as he attempts to re-energize the University of Baltimore, an institution rich in history but which often seems little more than an afterthought in the pecking order of Maryland higher education.

It will take more than fatherly advice to succeed, with the university being buffeted by deep budget cuts, staff reductions, wage freezes and unfilled vacancies. But Bogomolny says those problems are no excuse for not achieving academic excellence.

"You have choices you can make," he says. "You can feel victimized and live in that place. Or you can say this is a fact, and it's a fact we have to deal with, and how do we go about our world and get better?"

By most accounts, Bogomolny, in his first 17 months as president of the university, has instilled a new sense of urgency, purpose and commitment.

"Bob has brought a tremendous amount of energy to the college," says William O. Lynerd Jr., vice president for Institutional Advancement for almost four years. "Not just energy, but energy with a purpose. ... There's a difference between a frenetic pace when someone new comes in and energy with a purpose."

Bogomolny's attitude is fueled in no small measure by a passion for urban colleges, which he believes are essential to students who weren't born into privilege and, indeed, to the very survival of inner cities such as Baltimore's.

The University of Baltimore, he says, will always provide opportunities for "those who don't have all of the options available because of their life circumstances, and they need a place in the state system to serve them.

"I believe that may be the most noble role in higher education," he adds. "If you talk about those moments that you leave significance behind for other people, I think our kind of school really does it."

Bogomolny seems an unlikely activist for small, urban schools. He wears finely tailored pinstriped suits, is the product of Harvard, the most elite university in the world, and is accustomed to salaries well into six figures - plus stock options - in the corporate world.

But he received more than lessons in work ethics as a child; his parents preached and practiced the creeds of helping others and being involved in community needs.

His grandparents on both sides of his family immigrated to Ohio from Russia with only the possessions they wore or could carry.

"Part of the history of my life that I think is important is the fact that my parents' parents were really immigrants," Bogomolny says. " ... They came to this country with zero. In a way, I feel it's a little bit like so many of those transformational American stories, because the family, my parents in particular, were very, very interested in education and culture."

Robert Lee Bogomolny was born on June 27, 1938, the second son of Michael and Hilda Bogomolny.

His parents confronted tragedy and sacrifice at early ages, which not only influenced their lives greatly, but also how they raised their own children.

His mother's father died when she was a teen-ager, thrusting her and four sisters into work because their mother was unable to get a job because she didn't speak English.

"The girls all went to work [and] took in boarders," Bogomolny says. "It was sort of that tough immigrant survival thing that I find miraculous."

His father earned a master's degree in sociology but was forced to forgo his dream of teaching in college. During the Depression, he had to help keep afloat the small family business begun in Cleveland by his father in 1910 - a milk and ice cream manufacturer for retailers, including small drug stores and neighborhood grocery stores.

"We grew up in modest circumstances," Bogomolny recalls. "My father made a living that was certainly decent, but we were not wealthy."

Bogomolny's parents didn't focus just on the dairy store on Eagle Street; they immersed themselves in the community as well. His father was an early member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Cleveland, and his mother held leadership positions in various PTAs and became the first female president of the Jewish community centers in Cleveland.

"There's a long background in my life of education and community service that was important," Bogomolny says. "The family always gave back. They were always involved in community activities."

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