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Towson president begins second year with new plan

Towson University President Maravene Loeschke is no stranger to fitting big dreams inside of shrinking budgets.

The second-year president, an alumna, former teacher and former administrator at the university, plans to do just that when she unveils her new strategic plan during an address scheduled for 4 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 6.

"There's a strategic plan for the university that was here when I got here, and it is a beautiful document in terms of dreaming about the future, but (it) also has 46 action items in it and it's not accomplishable," Loechske said during an interview last month. "So what the President's Council and I have done is take that document and funnel it down to nine priorities, which includes a lot that's (currently) in it."

During her inaugural address in September, Loeschke highlighted eight points in the existing strategic plan that she believed would accelerate the university to national prominence by the school's 150th anniversary in 2016.

In the September speech, Loeschke called for a focus on innovation in teacher preparation, STEM workforce development, improved leadership education, more experiential learning and internships. She also advocated growing the arts and communication programs, improving diversity, greater faculty and student research, and educating the mind and body.

"We're in such a fabulous position to do two things at once, which excites me," Loeschke said. "One is to be a part of this immediate community. The other is, there are a number of places where we are well-poised to move into a national arena, and we're going to do that.

"It's a matter of supporting who we are and where we are and allowing ourselves the resources to be nationally recognized where it's appropriate."

While her team has spent a great deal of time crafting a plan that accentuates its promise, Loeschke and the university also had its fair share of highs and lows, both expected and unexpected.

In late March, two students — Timothy Coyer, 27, and Ryan Bailey, 20 — died on the same day. The former was found dead in his apartment, while the latter was killed in a hit-and-run off York Road.

"That was the worst day that I had here," Loeschke said. "As a president, what you do is support the students. There's nothing else you can do. You let them know your grief, you let them know you care … you let them know you're a person who feels the same thing, and you make sure there are support systems in place to help them."

Some issues, such as the disturbance created by a student group, Youth for Western Civilization, which drew attention for its desire to create a white student union, tested the university's resolve.

Loeschke said it was disheartening that discrimination had to be discussed on the campus, but that the subsequent conversation allowed for real discussions on free speech and intolerance that doesn't occur on many campuses.

Likewise, the president has struggled with whether to follow through on the athletic department's plan to cut men's soccer and baseball in order to fully fund its other programs, most notably men's basketball and football.

Loeschke called the discussions of cuts to athletic programs process "extremely painful," but said she wants to "make absolutely certain that when a decision is made, it's the best decision we could make."

'Joyful part of the job'

There also have been the moments that Loeschke will look back on as the finest of her first year in office.

During her inauguration week, Loeschke enjoyed the grand opening of the Institute of Well Being at Towson City Center in downtown Towson — an event she said she's not responsible for, but is still celebrating — and the creation of an International Walkway of flags on campus.

"It was a dream of mine from the moment I walked on this campus that there would be international flags flying in front of our liberal arts building, and I mentioned it and it happened," she said. "It recognizes we are bigger than ourselves."

Then there are the smaller moments that come from time spent with the students.

From leadership retreats to being saluted by star basketball players while they run down the court, Loeschke revels in moments in which she and the students are "people together," as opposed to a president and a student.

"I'm a 50-50 president," she said. "Half my time needs to be off campus dealing with all kinds of things — the legislature, the (University of Maryland) system, donors — and the other half is on campus.

"A big part of that is being with students … it's the reason I'm here. It is the most joyful part of the job."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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