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For an unassuming engineering professor, C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. took over the presidency of the University of Maryland-College Park with a bold agenda: to bring Maryland's flaghsip university into the same class as the nation's crown jewel state schools, like the University of Virginia and the University of California. A dozen years later, as Mr. Mote announces his plans to step down in August, that no longer seems so far fetched.

Acceptance rates are down, student test scores are up. New academic, arts and sports facilities dot the campus. The grade point averages of incoming students are a full half-point higher than they were when Mr. Mote arrived, and the number of freshman applications has doubled. Research funding is up 150 percent, fundraising has ballooned, and the school has risen from 30th in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of public research institutions to 18th. If College Park doesn't yet hold the same place as UVa. or Berkeley in popular esteem, it may only be a matter of time.

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His departure leaves big shoes to fill, but the University System has the advantage of looking for new leadership at a time of success, not crisis. As it forms its search committee, the system could do worse than to look for another Dan Mote, a steady, balanced presence at the helm of Maryland's top public university. His successor will face challenges, to be sure -- not the least of which are state budget cuts and an end to a four-year tuition freeze. But the university needs not a transformational leader but one who will continue the transformation Mr. Mote has quietly nurtured for the last decade.

(University of Maryland handout photo)

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