Maravene Loeschke built a deep reservoir of good will in more than 30 years as a student, drama professor and administrator at Towson University.
After Monday's announcement that she will return to campus as Towson's new president, university leaders said Loeschke is the perfect person to maintain the university's upward trajectory as it battles for limited state resources. She has plenty of practice after five years as president of Pennsylvania's Mansfield University, where she added programs in the face of budget cuts.
"The biggest challenge will be getting the resources we need to maintain and build excellence," Loeschke said. "We faced massive cuts here in Pennsylvania, and we had to make very, very difficult decisions. It was certainly a training ground for how to be effective and efficient."
Colleagues said Loeschke, 64, was a magnetic teacher with powerful attachments to Towson and a leader who won't back down from difficult decisions. The announcement was a heartening one for Towson faculty members, who worry that the university will be treated as a second-class citizen when the state makes difficult budget decisions
"There is a general feeling at Towson that there are forces in the General Assembly who don't want us to challenge College Park," said Richard Vatz, a professor of mass communications and longtime member of the faculty senate. "I was concerned that if a president was chosen who wasn't forceful and dynamic, we might be in for some problems. Well, Maravene Loeschke is forceful and dynamic."
Vatz called Loeschke "simply the best administrator I've ever seen."
Although economic constraints are a given for public universities these days, officials expressed confidence in her ability to transcend tight budgets. Under Loeschke, Mansfield added new online master's programs in leadership, nursing and library science, created a graphics design major and expanded campus housing for the first time in 40 years — despite 50 percent cuts in state funding that forced staff reductions.
"The fact that she's had to deal with tough times and make tough decisions but continued to flourish was very attractive to us," said regents Chairman Orlan Johnson.
Chancellor William E. Kirwan said Loeschke's sense of allegiance to Towson, combined with "masterful" handling of difficult fiscal times, made her an easy choice for the job. He predicted that her communication skills, honed in the theater, will help her improve sometimes-contentious relations between Towson and surrounding neighborhoods.
"What impressed me so much was her ability to articulate her values and her exceptional skill as a listener," he said. "It's really rare."
Under Loeschke, he said, Mansfield stepped up efforts to revitalize its community in north central Pennsylvania.
Loeschke, a Baltimore native and graduate of Parkville High School, will replace Robert L. Caret, who left to become president of the University of Massachusetts system this spring.
Marcia G. Welsh has served as acting president and will continue in that position until Loeschke joins the university in January.
Caret was also a former Towson professor who returned to the university after serving as president of another institution. Towson expanded aggressively under his watch, adding more than 1,000 on-campus beds, starting new graduate programs and making plans to open a campus in Harford County. The university is on pace to pass College Park as the state's largest educator of undergraduates.
When Caret departed after eight years, system leaders said they wanted a replacement who would keep pushing Towson to get bigger and better.
"She brings an interesting mix of appreciating Towson's history and culture with a willingness to be open to new ideas and a creative vision for the future," said David Nevins, a former regent who served on the search committee that helped select Loeschke. "I couldn't be more excited about the choice."
Loeschke earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Towson, and served on the faculty for more than 30 years, beginning in 1970. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from The Union Institute in Cincinnati.
She met her husband, Richard Gillespie, at Towson, where he founded the theater program in which she studied and taught. She joked that she had to wait 10 years after taking her husband's class to fall in love with him, because "he was too tough."
Loeschke rose to become dean of fine arts and communication at the university. While at Towson, she also wrote plays and acted in productions around the Baltimore area.
She said theater prepared her to be a college president in ways she never imagined, forcing her to speak boldly in public, to improvise and to apply critical thinking to everything from set design to social dynamics.