Q. We’ve named this feature “Up on the Roof” because taking visitors up to the very top of the Administration Building is one of your trademarks as UMBC’s president. How did it begin?
A. Actually, I’ll tell you the first person to take me there – and it’s a special memory. (Former president of UMBC) Michael Hooker took me there. He talked about the fact that the campus – prior to his coming – had been far more oriented towards Washington than Baltimore. The real question was: What should be our focus? And we decided at that time to balance the areas of focus. To talk about the fact that we are, in many ways, in the center of the corridor. When we go to one end of the roof, we see downtown Baltimore. When we go to the other end, we’re looking right into the driveway of the airport that is only 40 minutes from Washington. We had a conversation about the advantages of being connected to both metropolitan areas. Connected with the corporate community, with the cultural institutions, with the national science and health-care infrastructure, with the schools throughout the region.
So it became clear to me that the tour to the roof gave me the chance to make the point about our central location. To make the point about the development of the campus. To make the point about the connection between the campus and the broader community. And finally, going to the roof allows us to dream about the possibilities for UMBC.
Q. Do you remember the first person you took up there as president?
A. The Baltimore Sun. The day I was appointed president. They had been hearing that I said it was a great place to be, and they wanted to go up there and get a picture with me and the Baltimore skyline. And the photographer asked me to get on top of the ledge. And I was so young and naïve, and excited, that I began to climb up to the top of the ledge. And as I was getting ready to get over there, I thought about it and said: What am I doing? Because I’m really afraid of heights, by the way. And I said, “I will do many things for UMBC, but this is not one of them… This is taking it too far. It was a great lesson for me. It’s great to be enthusiastic, but don’t let your enthusiasm get in the way of your reason.
When alumni go there, they are able to put our recent development in perspective.
Sometimes, if alumni have not been back to campus recently, they can be somewhat disoriented. Where’s the old gym? And when we go up on the roof, I can point out the Commons, which is built on top of the roof of the old gym. Or they can see where the new engineering building is in relationship to buildings they knew when they were here. And once they become oriented, they begin to connect to the past. This is the place where I was. And people are excited by the growth on campus. The development. The investment.
Q. “Will the state’s financial issues interfere with the funding of the new Fine Arts building?”
A. First, we have received the money for the planning of the Fine Arts building. We are scheduled to get the money for construction in the next legislative session in 2010. We are ready to put the shovel in the ground, and we will be reminding people this year in preparation for next year. That building will cost about $150 million. And that process will involve our receiving approximately 80 million for the first half of the building in 2010.
Q. “As an educator and alum I continue to be concerned with the repeated cuts in higher education across the UM system. Beyond writing letters, what can we — as individuals — do to more effectively communicate to decision makers that critical infrastructure is being disproportionately affected with every cut?”
A. The budget cuts have meant that we have had to have a hiring freeze. And we have cut operating budgets. Our goal is to insure that we continue to protect people on the campus and the academic program. That means supporting students and faculty and staff, and making sure that we provide a first-rate education, even when we decide not to do things that can enhance the institution. In many cases, it’s a matter of delaying or postponing initiatives, and not necessarily stopping them completely. Or taking three years to do what we had hoped to do in two years.
Alumni can help us in several ways. Number one, coming back to campus and knowing people here can be helpful. Building relationships. Especially when alumni are working in places that may be hiring. This is a period for… “friend-raising” is what I call it. We want people who care about the university to help us support students in terms of jobs and internships. Opportunities for alumni to come back and speak to classes, or mentor students. Because jobs for students are as good as money. If students have jobs, they can stay in school. If you help the student, you help the university.
Alumni can also help by sending us well-prepared students: their own sons and daughters and relatives, or their students in classes, or their neighbors. When alumni tell their stories to friends – their stories related to their experiences at UMBC – people are impressed.
Q. UMBC has made great strides in its programs and its physical campus over the past 20 years, mainly under your leadership. What is your vision for UMBC over the next 10 years?
A. I want alumni to know as much as possible about UMBC. Because by knowing about UMBC – and the world beyond UMBC – they can help us in shaping the vision for our future.
I’m certainly hoping that the Obama administration, along with our state leadership, will continue to build public universities and invest in them, and build the infrastructure of public universities.
The name of the game, the theme in America, will be greater access to higher education. And that greater access may lead to us being slightly larger than we are if we can get the money to grow. We’re at 12,000 students right now. It would be good if we receive the enrollment growth funds, in this next ten year period, to grow to 14 or 15,000 students. That would make us more comparable to many of our peers in size.
We will be continuing to build the academic program. People know we’re strong, but success is never final. We’ll continue to build the athletic program. We’ve gotten stronger than ever, but, again, success is never final. We’ll be building national visibility. It’s great to be in the Up and Coming list: Top 10 at Top 5. It’s great to be one of the best values in public universities. But that reputation will be enhanced. We’ll be known for our strong programs. We’ll be known for our excellence in diversity. We’ll be known for caring deeply about our students. The best is yet to come.