Robert L. Bogomolny, who announced his retirement this week as president of the University of Baltimore, has not always had the smoothest tenure, having stoked tensions at times both in the city and the academic community. But history will judge him kindly. The controversies he encountered were temporary, but his triumphs at UB will be lasting and transformative for the school and the community that surrounds it.
Mr. Bogomolny, a former law professor and pharmaceutical company executive, took over the University of Baltimore in 2002, replacing a president, H. Mebane Turner, who had led the school for the previous 32 years. He would spend the next decade transforming what had been an institution known for its work-a-day law school and non-traditional undergraduates into a showpiece urban university that is central to the state's goals of turning out a better trained workforce.
The most obvious sign of Mr. Bogomolny's legacy is the upgrade of the school's campus that he has overseen during the last decade. He built a new student center and a new Liberal Arts and Policy building and facilitated the private development of a mixed-use residential complex on UB property next to Penn Station. His efforts have helped link Midtown to Penn Station and connected UB with the burgeoning Maryland Institute College of Art.
His most stunning contribution to the city, though, was the recently opened John and Frances Angelos Law Center. Working with the Abell Foundation, Mr. Bogomolny initiated an international design competition for the new law school building, which was funded in part by a $5 million gift by Orioles owner Peter Angelos (which he later increased to $15 million). The result, designed by Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore and Behnisch Architekten of Stuttgart, Germany, is a masterpiece of innovative and environmentally sound architecture that immediately became the university's focal point. It raised the school's profile — Vice President Joe Biden and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan both participated in its opening this spring — and provides state-of-the-art facilities for learning in and out of the classroom.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bogomolny created the school's first four-year undergraduate program in decades (previously, it had provided classes for junior and senior transfer students) and expanded UB's academic programs to cover in-demand fields like human ecology, sustainability, digital simulation and entertainment and social enterprise. When he arrived, UB enrolled about 2,000 undergraduates and 2,600 graduate students. Today, the school enrolls more than 3,600 undergraduates and 3,000 graduate students, and it is poised for more growth. Almost half of its undergraduates are minorities, and despite concerns that creating a four-year undergraduate program would dilute the success of its previous focus on later-life learners, the school maintains a second-year retention rate of nearly 80 percent.
The school's rapid transformation under Mr. Bogomolny's leadership has been rocky at times. He angered preservationists with his insistence that the old Odorite Building on Mt. Royal Avenue had to be razed to make way for the student center, and students protested against him in 2011 after then-UB Law School Dean Phillip Closius said he was forced to resign. Mr. Closius was popular with students and faculty and had overseen a rapid rise in the school's rankings, but he clashed with Mr. Bogomolny over the extent to which law students' rising tuition was subsidizing the university's other programs. The American Bar Association had issued an accreditation report at the time that questioned the school's financial relationship to the university. Mr. Bogomolny sought to refute Mr. Closius' criticisms, noting growth in law faculty and scholarships for law students, but he did agree a few months later to increase the law school's budget by $1 million a year for the next five years.
The big picture, though, is that Mr. Bogomolny's tenure coincided with a period in which the University System of Maryland was seeking to cope with both a bulge in the number of high school graduates applying to college and a need to provide greater opportunities for older students to complete undergraduate or graduate course work. He rose to that challenge. UB is no longer a sleepy commuter campus with a fourth-tier law school but a dynamic institution that plays an integral role in the state's effort to train a 21st century workforce. Mr. Bogomolny had big shoes to fill when he took over for Mr. Turner, who essentially created UB as the public institution it is today. He may leave even bigger ones for his successor.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun