The University of Maryland Board of Regents gave Dr. Hrabowski the job he had held on an interim basis since the resignation of former President Michael K. Hooker last summer.
Dr. Hrabowski becomes the first black president of a predominantlywhite campus in the Baltimore area. He is also one of only five blacks in the nation now running a predominantly white research university.
Although a formal search committee was named to screen candidates, many in the UM system considered it a given that Dr. Hrabowski would land the job.
"His enthusiasm and energy are truly phenomenal," said Universityof Maryland System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg, who recommended Dr. Hrabowski to the regents.
UMBC, with its 10,600 students, is the state's second-largest research university. The University of Maryland at College Park is about three times as large.
Only 27 years old, UMBC has developed a solid reputation in the academic community for several of its programs, including biotechnology research and life sciences. But the mostly commuter university in Catonsville remains a mystery to many Marylanders, Dr. Hrabowski admits.
"For many people, UMBC is still only a name. When they come on campus and see the facilities and talk to the staff, faculty and students, they are impressed," he said.
Dr. Hrabowski will face several major issues that have lingered on campus for years. One goal will be to rejuvenate the school's long-planned research park, a project that has been stymied by community opposition and a lack of corporate support. Also on the table is the much-debated merger of UMBC with the 'D University of Maryland at Baltimore, an idea rejected repeatedly by the General Assembly.
In the background is a continuing budget crunch for all of Maryland public higher education, which has brought a series of layoffs, furloughs and other cuts the last three years.
Dr. Hrabowski, who will receive a salary of $125,000, is the second black to head a predominantly white university in Maryland. John B. Slaughter was the first, serving as chancellor at College Park from 1982 to 1988.
Dr. Hrabowski grew up in Birmingham, Ala., the son of two teachers. His Polish last name comes from his great-great-grandfather, a white slave master.
He says that his parents drilled into him the importance of education and that, as a boy, he knew he wanted to go into academia.
In a hurry at an early age, he graduated from high school at 15 and earned his bachelor's degree at Hampton Institute in Virginia by the time he was 19. He earned a master's in mathematics and a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and went on to posts there and at Alabama A&M; University.
In 1977 -- at the age of 26 -- he was named a dean at Coppin State College in Baltimore. During his 10 years there, Dr. Hrabowski came to be regarded as the leading academic figure on campus.
Dr. Hooker brought Dr. Hrabowski to UMBC as vice provost in 1987 and later named him executive vice president.
At UMBC, Dr. Hrabowski has been best known for supervising the Meyerhoff scholarship program for promising black students interested in math, science and engineering. Dr. Hrabowski has been chief public relations officer and recruiter for the nationally respected program, now in its fourth year. At the same time, he became a campus friend to many of the Meyerhoff students.
The recruitment of dozens of talented black Meyerhoff scholars has fueled a dramatic increase in average Scholastic Aptitude Test scores for UMBC's black students in the last few years. The school has also been successful at keeping black students enrolled from year to year, a major challenge at many predominantly white universities.
Dr. Hrabowski has endured a trying tenure as interim president, fending off a proposal by the system's Board of Regents to eliminate several UMBC programs as part of a system-wide restructuring.
UMBC officials were able to save programs, including theater, social work and ancient studies. But Dr. Hrabowski was criticized for not fighting to save others, particularly the African-American studies graduate program.
"We regret that we can not do all things, but what we do, we want to do well," he said.
Some faculty defended Dr. Hrabowski for making tough decisions.
"He didn't just come at it saying we have to save all programs," said Robert L. Rasera, a physics professor and former president of the faculty senate. "He didn't just do the easy thing."
Dr. Hrabowski maintains a breakneck schedule, stopping to talk to just about everyone on campus. In his spare time, he plays tennis, reads 19th-century British novels and practices Beethoven piano sonatas. His wife, Jacqueline, is a vice president at the T. Rowe Price investment firm. Eric, their only child, will enroll as a freshman at Hampton, his father's alma mater, in the fall.
Dr. Hrabowski likes to credit his success to his family, as well as the students, faculty and staff with whom he works.
Yesterday, he brought to the regents meeting five of UMBC's most accomplished students, all of whom are headed to prestigious graduate programs next fall.
"The state of Maryland can be very proud of UMBC," he said. "It represents what a mid-sized research university can be."