Coppin president to leave in '07 for post at N.C. A&T

November 11, 2006|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

After four years as head of Coppin State University, President Stanley F. Battle will leave Baltimore to become chancellor of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro, regarded as one of the most prestigious historically black universities in the country.

Battle's new position was approved yesterday by the governing board of the 16-campus University of North Carolina system, said board Chairman Jim W. Phillips Jr.

"The chance to serve as chancellor of North Carolina A&T is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Battle in a statement. "However, this was a very difficult decision. My wife Judy and I love Coppin State University very much. We will continue to support the institution both spiritually and financially."

Battle, 55, will finish out the academic year in West Baltimore and assume the reins of the 11,000-student North Carolina campus July 1, Coppin officials said.

He will leave behind a 4,000-student historically black campus dotted with construction sites that has been reinvigorated in recent years by an infusion of state funds, but one still struggling to overcome a generation of neglect by the state.

When he arrived in 2003 from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he was a vice chancellor, Battle inherited a college reeling from decades of underfunding. In the 1990s, Coppin was awarded $669 per student in capital funds, compared with an average of $16,144 per student at the state's other campuses.

Today, there's a $56 million classroom building under construction, the first in more than 25 years. Planning has begun for a $100 million physical education complex. Under Battle's leadership, the school has received national recognition for its campus-wide wireless technology -- a first in the state system.

School officials also credit Battle for effective lobbying of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., which they say resulted in a 50 percent increase in operating funds last year.

In 2004, Battle persuaded the state to change the name of the school from Coppin State College to Coppin State University.

The change was largely symbolic, but one that students say has increased pride and morale. Battle is regarded on the Coppin campus as popular and approachable, and students and faculty expressed surprise and dismay at the news, which was announced to them by e-mail yesterday.

"No. Really?" said social work major Kimika Smith, 30, who was marking the unseasonably warm weather in an unintentionally appropriate T-shirt souvenir from Coppin's 2006 homecoming -- featuring a basketball match between the Baltimore college and North Carolina A&T.

"That's gonna hurt us," she said. "He was on the verge of bringing us up to higher standards."

"I don't think it's fair," said Quanique Taft, 21, a chemistry major from West Baltimore. "He started a lot here and now he's leaving? I think he should stay to see how everything turns out."

A social welfare researcher, Battle has been a vocal advocate of the university's obligation to its West Baltimore neighbors. He oversaw in 2005 the establishment of the Coppin Academy, an on-campus high school designed to better prepare area students for college by giving them access to a collegiate environment.

"I think he will be seen as a person who not only connected the university in a very substantial way to the future of the community, but also will be seen as the architect of the renaissance of the institution," said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

Whether that physical renaissance yields an improvement of academic standards and performance is yet to be seen. Coppin lags behind almost every other state college in Maryland by most standard measures.

This year, enrollment of full-time undergraduate freshmen dropped by 26 percent; the five-year drop has been 12 percent. The declines occurred during a period of general enrollment growth statewide.

Student SAT scores -- hovering between 780 and 910 -- have not improved during Battle's tenure and are the second-lowest in the system, just above University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.

Perhaps the most troubling statistics are graduation rates. Only a quarter of Coppin students get a degree within six years, a rate that is by far the lowest in the University System. About a third of full-time freshmen drop out or leave after their first year -- the highest such drop-off in the state system.

Though he said the state Board of Regents was disappointed in Coppin's declining enrollment, Kirwan expressed confidence that physical improvements will generate academic results.

"I think the investments that have now been placed in the institution will enable it to make real progress in terms of retention and graduation rates," he said, "and there certainly will be an expectation that it will occur."

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