University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III says he is not interested in becoming chancellor of the University System of Maryland. That is a shame. He is extraordinarily qualified for the job, and if he could do for the entire system what he has done for UMBC, Maryland would benefit enormously.
He has spearheaded innovative new approaches to teaching and learning, particularly in math and the sciences, and he has fostered the kind of linkages between students and employers that Maryland needs to grow its innovation economy. He is a national leader on education policy yet also on a first-name basis with seemingly every student on his campus.
And if there is anyone who can exceed the political acumen of outgoing Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan — whose leadership was instrumental in steering the university system through a period that saw tuition skyrocket in other states but not here — it is Mr. Hrabowski. There is perhaps no one better positioned to resolve one of the major challenges facing the next chancellor: the lawsuit from supporters of Maryland's historically black colleges and universities over funding and program duplication. Mr. Hrabowski spent a decade at what is now Coppin State University, yet he also has the perspective of a leader of one of the state's traditionally white institutions that is now strikingly diverse.
It's odd to think that a university system could increase its prominence by promoting from within, but with all due respect to Mr. Kirwan, this is the rare case in which that would be true. Members of the search committee to replace Mr. Kirwan want someone with star power. Mr. Hrabowski has it and then some. We dearly wish he would change his mind.
The trouble is, other potentially qualified candidates from around the country may well be afraid that he will — or that Maryland leaders, who have shown little inclination to look outside for leadership of the university system over the decades, will eventually pressure him into it. Members of the Board of Regents and the search committee have indicated an interest in someone who can bring a fresh perspective to the system, perhaps even a non-traditional candidate, and we certainly endorse that as the second-best option behind Mr. Hrabowski. However, we fear that despite his protestations, Mr. Hrabowski's mere presence could have a chilling effect on applications.
The simplest solution would be for Mr. Hrabowski to apply for the job. We understand his desire to stay at UMBC. He has turned that university into a true gem, and that has earned him a great deal of freedom to lead it as he sees fit. Becoming chancellor would subject him to a whole different set of challenges and pressures while placing him at farther remove from the business of inspiring young minds, which has clearly been the driving force of his career. Mr. Hrabowski has had plenty of opportunities over the years for jobs at institutions without the word "county" in the title, but he has stayed at UMBC, both out of loyalty and the good sense to recognize that passion for what you do trumps an outdated notion of prestige.
But this opportunity is different. Maryland's higher education system is among the best funded in the country, but it is not necessarily among the most innovative. We could probably find a candidate from outside the system who could bring some of the best ideas from other states — whether they be for alternative tuition models or innovative uses of technology to foster learning — but he or she might have trouble building support for change in an academic/political environment that can be strikingly provincial. Mr. Hrabowski, though, is a proven innovator with his finger on the pulse of American higher education, yet he also has the unwavering support of Maryland's political leaders and the respect of his fellow academics. More than any other possible candidate, he knows what needs to be done to position Maryland's public colleges and universities for the 21st century and has the wherewithal to accomplish it.
Mr. Hrabowski, your state needs you, and we don't plan to take no for an answer.
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