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College presidents hope to strengthen ties with town residents

Looking at Goucher College and Towson University as community assets

By Loni Ingraham, lingraham@patuxent.com

10:37 PM EDT, October 24, 2011

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The gap between town and gown in Towson may grow smaller if remarks made at the Greater Towson's Committee's town hall meeting Oct. 19 are any indication.

The meeting featured Goucher College President Sanford Ungar and Towson University Interim President Marcia Welsh, the TU provost who is heading the school until Maravene Loeschke takes office Jan. 1.

Ungar acknowledged tension between the community and the colleges at times and the fact that college students' behavior can be problematic, when he said, "There are those who believe Towson would be better off if Goucher College and Towson University were cemeteries."

But he also said he hoped, "business people in Towson understand how valuable the students are for this community."

He received no argument from Larry Schmidt, a past president of the GTC, which was founded in 1979 to promote commercial development in Towson.

Schmidt said the business community, in Goucher's case, "embraces the college's 1,500 kids whom we'd love to see spend their money in our town."

For those reasons, Schmidt and the rest of the business community embraced the more than 5,800 Towson University students who live on campus and the same number who live in neighborhoods near the campus.

But both presidents said they see the revenue the college students generate as just a small part of a bigger picture. They are taking measures in the belief that both the community and the student benefit from interacting with each other.

"We want you to share our pride in TU and see it as an important asset," Welsh said. "We are expanding in ways to help the community, rather than be a nuisance."

She said TU is trying to get out more information about "phenomenal" art and other events the school is offering by running ads and using a one-stop shop on the Internet and "providing links to make you more comfortable on campus," she said.

"And we're working on parking," she added. "That's now a large issue."

Welsh said TU's radio station, TMD, plans to eventually move into the new Towson City Center in the middle of town, as will the university's business incubator facility.

"I hope we can strengthen and build what I consider a great relationship," Welsh said.

David Kosak, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Association, said it appears new TU president Loeschke will continue that line of thinking cooperatively with the community.

"The previous TU president had no idea where certain places were," he said.

"We never talked to the guy," said GTCCA vice president Josh Glikin

Kosak said Loeschke, "knows the neighborhoods and knows the issues coming in. I'd call her reachable and approachable."

"I found the new president to be very engaging, very well informed," Fifth District County Councilman David Marks said. "She wants to advance a good relationship."

For his part, Ungar said he believes Goucher is enhanced by its relationship with the community and that students, in turn, bring a lot to the community. He said he welcomes residents to Goucher's public programs and invites them to rent its facilities.

GTC Member Joe Werner commended Ungar on Goucher's sterling relationship with the community and asked if he had any advice for TU.

"I wouldn't presume to offer advice to our big brother down the street," Ungar said. "We're very different from each other."

"I can only say to be open and be in good communication with the community."

Marks said that if anything, the Oct. 19 meeting showed that, "the relationship continues to improve between the community and the two campuses."

"It indicated that the university and the college can play a central role in the revitalization of Towson. We're not at the point of building dorms, but the schools can anchor portions of the downtown area."