Chancellor who helped found and plan UMBC dies

Albin Owings Kuhn | 1916-2010

March 25, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen |

Albin Owings Kuhn, the son of Howard County farmers who rose to become an official of the University of Maryland, College Park, and later helped plan the university system's Baltimore County campus as a founding chancellor, died Wednesday of pneumonia at his Woodbine farm. He was 94.

"Good gracious, we have so much to thank him for. He was a very special man and a giant, and we're standing on the shoulders of that giant," Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said Thursday.

"Dr. Kuhn was an exemplary leader because of his vision. He was able to make substantial progress on campus because he had the ability to relate to all kinds of people, faculty, staff, students and the surrounding community," he said.

"He was never pompous or aloof. He was a down-to-earth supporter of the college and was a wonderful friend and inspiration to me over the years," he said.

"Dr. Kuhn was our biggest cheerleader. He believed in us. He'd call me up and tell me how proud he was of our work, and I'd get tears in my eyes," Dr. Hrabowski said.

Dr. Kuhn, who remained proud of his agrarian roots throughout his life, was born in Woodbine in Carroll County and was raised on a 215-acre dairy and general crop farm in Howard County.

After graduating in 1933 from Lisbon High School, he earned a bachelor's degree in agronomy and vocational agriculture in 1938 from the University of Maryland. He remained at Maryland, where he earned a master's degree the next year in agronomy and botany.

Dr. Kuhn was appointed an instructor in agronomy at College Park in 1940, where he was involved with extension work throughout the state.

In 1944, he left Maryland after being commissioned an ensign in the Navy, where he served in the Pacific, training personnel for amphibious landings, and later aboard the attack transport USS Clinton.

After being discharged in 1946, he returned to College Park, where he resumed his academic career and was appointed chair in 1948 of the department of agronomy. He held that position until 1955, when he was named assistant to Wilson H. Elkins, then the college's president.

In 1948, he earned a Ph.D. in plant genetics and physiology from Maryland and did additional graduate work at the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Kuhn became university executive vice president in 1958 and vice president of UM's Baltimore campus in 1965.

During his tenure at College Park, he played an instrumental role in expanding the facilities and personnel that saw the campus expand from 10,000 to more than 20,000 students.

He also led the growth and further development of the Baltimore campus that grew from 8Πacres to more than 25 acres, with new buildings for the professional schools and what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Perhaps one of Dr. Kuhn's greatest challenges, which became his lasting legacy, was the transformation in the early 1960s of 476 acres of farmland near Catonsville, into what is today's University of Maryland Baltimore County.

He worked closely with Rogers, Taliaferro, Kostritsky & Lamb — later known as RTKL — and led the team that planned, sited and built UMBC, which opened its doors for its first students in 1966.

"UMBC is the only public university in the state that was started totally from scratch," Dr. Kuhn told The Baltimore Sun in 1982 at the time of his retirement as university executive vice president.

"The University of Maryland at College Park started as a private school, the Maryland Agricultural College, and the University of Maryland at Baltimore started as a private medical school. They were brought together in the 1920s as the University of Maryland," he explained.

"Working on the development of UMBC was the chance of a lifetime — from nearly 500 acres of vegetable farm to a full-scale university," recalled Dr. Kuhn.

Not to be far away from the work at hand, Dr. Kuhn moved his family in 1965 into a small gray farmhouse that became their residence, his office and eventually a welcomed refuge for both UMBC students and faculty who came to call. At one time, its enclosed porch became the card catalog center for the university's 20,000-volume library.

As development got under way, Dr. Kuhn had to contend with complaints of oceans of mud at the site and pundits on The Diamondback who referred to the new campus in news stories as "Cat State."

"He took claims of excessive mud personally and bristled at that," Dr. Larry Wilt, who is director of UMBC's Albin O. Kuhn Library, said with a laugh.

Dr. Joseph N. Tatarewicz, a history professor who has been associated with UMBC for nearly 20 years, is an old friend and admirer.

"Gregarious, yet self-effacing, he took to educational administration almost effortlessly, and by the early 1960s he was the perfect person to lead the development of a new campus, sorely needed due to the baby boomers' entering college," he said.

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