"I am here to incite a revolution," Donald N. Langenberg said last week in his inaugural address as chancellor of the University of Maryland. What he has in mind are sweeping changes to transform the state's vast university system. The alternative, he said, is for UM to become "a historical anachronism, a bastion of arrogant irrelevance."
Dr. Langenberg's address amounted to a harsh condemnation of hidebound campus leaders who have thwarted past efforts to bring about much-needed reforms at UM. Failure to respond to "a swiftly evolving global society" has robbed the university of its role as "a vital engine of our society."
Academic leaders have been smug and self-satisfied and missed a golden opportunity in the boom years of the 1980s to re-direct campuses in new, imaginative directions, the chancellor said. Instead, UM and other colleges "used our new-found wealth to create new and sometimes questionable programs without cutting the old, the outmoded, or the mediocre. Today, we are paying the price."
What the chancellor proposes is in line with the thinking of the Maryland Higher Education Commission to set diverse but well-focused objectives for each campus and then funnel whatever money is available into the university's top priorities. That will mean eliminating duplicative or ineffective programs and reorganizing staff and resources. It also means knocking down the walls that have separated academics on various UM campuses. And it means experimenting with interdisciplinary approaches to research and education far beyond what UM has done in the past.
There was also a pledge by the chancellor to "prune the thicket of policies, rules, regulations and guidelines that threatens to smother the [UM] system and every creative employee within it." Less red tape -- and fewer bureaucrats -- would let the university concentrate more directly on educating students and expanding research.
Dr. Langenberg used his inaugural address to set a tone for his administration. He has a clear-cut vision for raising standards at the University of Maryland and for harnessing limited resources to achieve the greatest academic impact. He promises action, not inaction; boldness and creativity rather than a perpetuation of the status quo.
If he's as good as his word, the University of Maryland is in for just the kind of challenge it has avoided far too long.