Wallace D. Loh, a Chinese native who immigrated to Iowa as a teenager and went on to become a star law professor and provost of the University of Iowa, will be the next president of the University of Maryland, College Park.
Loh, 65, was appointed by the university system's Board of Regents after a six-month search to replace C.D. Mote Jr., who led the state's flagship university to new plateaus of academic prestige, research funding and student interest.
"Dr. Loh is the right person to lead our flagship university to its next level of greatness," said Clifford Kendall, chairman of the regents. "His wealth of experience and achievements in higher education demonstrate his strong commitment to excellence in teaching, research, and service and demonstrate his exceptional ability to move institutions forward."
To Loh, who has spent just two years on the Iowa campus, the approach from Maryland officials a couple of months ago came as a surprise.
"The search committee actively sought me out," he said this morning by telephone from his home in Iowa City. "I wasn't in the market. I was definitely not looking, since I was a fairly new arrival in Iowa. But when they started educating me on the opportunities and on what the University of Maryland had to offer in terms of its service to the people of the state of Maryland, I became very interested."
Loh said he had been bowled over by the focus and professionalism of Maryland's recruiters, and the speed at which he was brought into the university's fold. "Most things in higher education proceed at a glacial pace, so it was very impressive to see how professionally and how efficiently the process ran," he said.
On Friday, after he was offered the post but before he had accepted it, Loh made his first visit to College Park and inspected the area, first alone and later with a guide. "I decided I must walk around and see the campus, incognito," he said. "I was stunned at how beautiful a campus it was. But I couldn't talk to anyone because it is a confidential process."
In the last few weeks, he said, as he researched the University of Maryland's history and current programs, "the one thing that caught my attention was the extraordinary rise in the excellence of the university in a very short period of time," a development that he said owed much to the man who will soon become his predecessor as well as to the legislators and university officials he said "supported that rise."
"Very few universities are able to rise to the top rank of national universities that quickly," Loh said.
Annual college rankings released this week by U.S. News & World Report placed the University of Maryland's College Park campus in 20th position on the magazine's up-and-coming list, while the school's Baltimore County outpost headed that list for the second consecutive year.
But the College Park campus finished at 56 in the overall ranking of national universities, down three spots from 2009. The magazine praised its programs for first-year students and its themed learning communities, and ranked its undergraduate business program 19th in the country.
Loh said that he plans to build on these triumphs.
"Building on the extraordinary successes of President Dan Mote, I have 'Great Expectations' that the university will continue its rise to the highest tier of global excellence, creating better futures for the students we serve and the state of Maryland."
Mote had a tempestuous relationship with civic leaders in College Park, and Loh will have to work with them as the university pursues an ambitious redevelopment of its East Campus. He will also inherit a student body that bristled at faculty and staff cuts made last year in response to statewide budget reductions.
He will need to hire a new athletic director after Deborah Yow left for N.C. State earlier this year. That new leader will face immediate questions about football coach Ralph Friedgen, whose hold on his job was considered tenuous after last season.
In Shanghai, were Loh was born, his family owned enough land that he would have become the city's " Donald Trump" if the Communist Party hadn't taken over, he once quipped. Loh's father was a diplomat and moved the family to Peru, where he attended high school. Loh speaks Spanish, in addition to Chinese and French.
After graduating at age 15, he received a grant to attend college in Iowa, where he had no personal contacts and spoke little English. Nonetheless, he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Grinnell College and went on to earn a doctorate in psychology from the University of Michigan and a law degree from Yale, where he was a classmate of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
He served as dean of the law school at the University of Washington from 1990 to 1995, where his aggressive push for a more diverse student body earned him widespread praise and criticism from activists on both sides of the affirmative action debate.
From 1997 to 1999, he served as chief policy adviser to Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, the nation's first Chinese-American governor. There, he again earned both praise and criticism for his aggressive push to integrate technology into education.
Before returning to Iowa as the second-in-command of that state's flagship university in 2008, Loh spent nine years as dean and professor of public service and psychology at Seattle University.
At Iowa, Loh helped steer the university through a state budget crisis and recovery from damaging floods. He led development of a strategic plan to grow and diversify the university over the next decade.
"He has proven himself to be one of the nation's top academic leaders, and certainly is well-prepared to assume the presidency of a major university," said Iowa President Sally Mason in a statement.
Chancellor William E. Kirwan said that Loh's experience and values were in sync with University of Maryland's goals.
"Dr. Loh brings a remarkable intellect, talent, and life experience to the University of Maryland. His focus on excellence, inclusion, internationalization of higher education, cross-disciplinary research, and community outreach mirrors the priorities of the system and the campus. We feel privileged to welcome him to our community."
Loh has been married to his wife, Barbara, for 25 years. Their daughter, Andrea, attends Occidental College in California.
Mote, who will step down from UM's presidency on Aug. 31, will continue at the university in his role as Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering in the A. James Clark School of Engineering.
After Mote's departure, provost Nariman Farvardin will serve as interim president until Loh starts in November.