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Next Towson U. president should be sensitive to communities, residents say

Mike Ertel, of West Towson, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, addresses a search committee that will choose Towson University's next president. At far right at the table is the committee's chairman, David Kinkopf.
Mike Ertel, of West Towson, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, addresses a search committee that will choose Towson University's next president. At far right at the table is the committee's chairman, David Kinkopf. (Staff photo by Larry Perl)

Only three people showed up for a town meeting to find out what qualities the public thinks Towson University's next president should have.

"We have you outnumbered," quipped David Kinkopf, chairman of the 13-member Presidential Search and Screening Committee.

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But the three area residents who came had plenty to say — and most of it focused on the need for a university president who will be sensitive to keeping the peace with surrounding communities.

"I came thinking about this being more of a community forum," said Rodgers Forge resident Jerry Truelove, who lives near the university. Speaking from what he called "a community point of view," Truelove cited a bevy of town-gown concerns ranging from loud off-campus parties to large crowds and bright lights for nighttime athletic events all of which left him to call for a president who has "a proven background in community relations and outreach."

In choosing a president, "There are many things to consider, but put us in that basket of things," Truelove said. "We would think that empathy and understanding is a very important part of this."

Echoing those sentiments were 31-year Rodgers Forge resident Susan Oslund and Mike Ertel, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.

"My house is my sanctuary," said Oslund, a former longtime social worker, citing concerns about noisy students, rising enrollment and trees town down to make way for a nearby university child care center. "So for a new president, I would like someone who is sensitive to the community," she said.

"You're not just running a university. You're a neighbor," said Ertel, a 20-year West Towson resident and Towson University graduate. He said the university has built too many buildings and put up too many lights near neighborhoods.

"I think we need a president who is sensitive to that," Ertel said.

Ertel also said the next president should live in the Towson area to be closer to the community. The university bought a house for $2 million in the upscale Guilford neighborhood in Baltimore in 2001, so that then-President Mark Perkins could entertain potential donors. Perkins was forced to resign within a year of taking the job, after reports of lavish spending on the house, including the addition of an elevator and a $25,000 entertainment system, caused a public outcry. The university has since sold the house.

Kinkopf, an attorney and a member of the Maryland Board of Regents, cited empathy with communities as a "critical component" of the president's job, and said he recently spoke with William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, who felt the same way.

Leonard Raley, president and chief executive officer of the University System of Maryland Foundation and vice chancellor for advancement, serves as Kirwan's liaison to the Towson University presidential committee and attended Tuesday's town meeting. Raley is also a graduate of Towson University.

Committee member David Vanko, a Wiltondale resident and dean of the university's Fisher College of Science and Mathematics, also said he shared residents' concerns.

"Believe me, nobody wants to see property values affected," Vanko said. "I don't think the university wants to see that, either."

Residents said they think the relationship between the university and neighborhoods has improved in recent years.

"I think there is an attempt at responsiveness" to community concerns," Truelove said.

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But residents also said the Towson area is not dependent on the university.

"It belongs to the citizens," Oslund said. "I don't see it as a college town."

Kinkopf asked residents at the start of the meeting to weigh in on what they think the university's priorities should be in the next three to five years, what their opinions are of Towson University, what they think the university does well, and what qualities the search committee should be looking for as it drafts a desired leadership profile of the next president. He said the committee hopes to have an extensive profile in the next few weeks, after which it will begin to recruit qualified candidates with the help of an executive search firm, Witt/Kieffer, based in Pittsburgh, Pa.

In an interview after the meeting, Kinkopf said he believes the university is positioned to attract top candidates, and that Maryland's support of higher education will help in recruiting. But he also said that who they consider will depend partly on the needs of the university. He said the committee would consider "highly experienced individuals at universities similar to Towson," as well as "less traditional candidates, maybe even from outside higher education."

"I think we're going to cast the net as broadly as we can," Kinkopf said. "From everyone we've talked with, I think we can attract the cream of the crop."

Timothy Chandler has served as the university's interim president since December 2014, after former president Maravene Loeschke retired due to health reasons.

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