John W. Dorsey, former chancellor of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who later returned to the classroom where he taught economics, died Monday of respiratory failure at his Laurel home. He was 78.
"Many believe that he saved UMBC from several alternative fates, from absorption to closure, and set it onto the sound course that leads to today," said Joseph N. Tatarewicz, an associate professor of history at UMBC and director of the university's human context of science and technology program.
"Dr. Dorsey became chancellor of UMBC, which is equivalent to president today, in 1977 during a difficult period for the university," he said.
The son of John Wesley Dorsey Sr., a farmer, and Abbie Dorsey, a schoolteacher, John Wesley Dorsey was born in Hagerstown. He was raised at Sherrick House in Sharpsburg, the family farm located within the confines of the Antietam battlefield.
"Dr. Dorsey grew up helping his father on the farm and by bringing in hay and driving the tractor across the Burnside Bridge," said his son-in-law, Tim Small of Ashburn, Va.
After graduating from Boonsboro High School, he was a 1958 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, and also graduated from the London School of Economics. He earned his doctorate in economics in 1964 from Harvard University.
In 1963, he joined the economics faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park, and in 1965, took a one-year leave of absence to serve as a staff economist on President Lyndon B. Johnson's Council of Economic Advisors.
Dr. Dorsey returned to College Park in 1966, where he served as director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research for four years. He was vice chancellor of administrative affairs from 1970 to 1977 and acting chancellor of the College Park campus from 1974 to 1975.
In 1977, Dr. Dorsey was named chancellor of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which was the university's newest campus. During his tenure at UMBC, enrollment went from 5,200 to 8,150 students. Average SAT scores of incoming students increased nearly 100 points, and the faculty grew to 400. UMBC's annual budget expanded from $18.6 million to $46.2 million.
With UMBC's birth coinciding with the "major crest of the baby boom," said Dr. Tatarewicz, and with that subsiding, the "university needed to take its place within Maryland higher education's changed landscape and circumstances."
"The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is but 13 years old; yet it is difficult to identify more than four other major public university campuses in the nation that have progressed as well in the development of excellence in a comparable period," Dr. Dorsey wrote in a 1979 article in The Baltimore Sun.
"Already it has established an extraordinary record for placing its graduates in medical, dental and law schools, in graduate schools of business and in graduate programs ranging in content from ancient studies to biochemistry," he wrote.
"By every measure, UMBC has, from its inception, pursued its goal of delivering first-rate comprehensive education in Baltimore," wrote Dr. Dorsey.
Dr. Tatarewicz said Dr. Dorsey helped stabilize the university.
"His nine years are widely considered a time of stabilizing the identity and overall role of UMBC, establishing renewed trust with the legislature and other governing bodies, and healing internal wounds, which were in part the result of the rapid growth of the first 10 years," said Dr. Tatarewicz, who interviewed Dr. Dorsey for UMBC's oral history project.
He added that Dr. Dorsey was "remembered by many faculty of the time with respect and fondness."
Dr. Dorsey stepped down as chancellor in 1985 when he was named special assistant to then-University of Maryland President John S. Toll, where his assignment was to coordinate university efforts in economic development.
"Eight years is an above-average time to be in a chancellorship, and I can say quite honestly it's good to change," Dr. Dorsey told The Sun at the time.
Reflecting on his years at UMBC, Dr. Dorsey told the newspaper, "Enrollment is up, SAT scores are up. Everything is up."
During his years at College Park, Dr. Dorsey carefully honed a reputation for being a quiet and competent administrator who deftly worked behind the scenes, according to newspaper accounts. He also returned to the classroom as an economics professor.
Dr. Dorsey retired from College Park in 2001.
He served on the boards of the State Employees' Credit Union of Maryland and the Council on Economic Education in Maryland.
Dr. Dorsey joined the board of SECU in 1975, the same year as Donald Tynes Sr., a longtime friend and current chairman.
"John was a very detailed-oriented person, and he was adamant in providing services to our members," said Mr. Tynes. "He was a very quiet person in terms of how he operated. He had been a very good chairman and believed in inclusiveness."
He was a lifelong Red Sox fan.
At Dr. Dorsey's request, no services will be held.
In addition to his son-in-law, Dr. Dorsey is survived by his wife of 25 years, the former Jeanne Ascosi; his daughter, Rachel Dorsey Small of Ashburn, Va.; and three grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Doris Marshall ended in divorce.