When television lights cast an eerie glow on the darkened campus last month, Goucher College President Judy Jolley Mohraz found herself once again in the midst of controversy.
Students were staging a late-night rally to protest anti-gay graffiti that had been scrawled for weeks on doors around the Towson campus. The scene was reminiscent of another heated meeting last year when students denounced a basketball coach's racial comment.
As she had in the past, Mohraz moved swiftly, decrying the incidents and urging campus unity. Her response, which helped quiet the campus, was typical of the conciliatory style that has won the hearts -- and loosened the purse strings -- of many of Goucher's staff members and alumni since she arrived four years ago from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Mohraz's energetic leadership recently pushed Goucher to a record-setting $48 million capital campaign, more than three times as much as in any other campaign.
She has overseen a multimillion-dollar construction drive and devised a strategic plan for the college. She also has helped increase enrollment from 1,130 in 1994 to 1,484 this fall.
"Goucher is on a roll now," says Suzanne Fineman-Cohen, Class of 1956. "I feel positive about Judy. Part of it is her openness of personality and her ability to engage people one on one or in a group."
Mohraz, 55, says her mission is clear: to aggressively market the small liberal arts college.
"Having spent 20 years in Dallas, where nothing is subtle or downplayed, it was necessary to raise the visibility of the college in the public's eye so people realize how fine Goucher is," she says. "We are really on a journey. It's awfully important for me to facilitate that journey."
Wooing the alumni
Her presidency at Goucher often is called a turning point for the former women's college, which was founded in 1885 and became co-educational 10 years ago. When she arrived, she set out to woo the college's 16,900 alumni, especially female graduates who were seething over the decision to accept men.
Mohraz logged hours of flying to meet far-flung alumni. She also began holding intimate dinner parties -- sometimes serving her signature pumpkin soup -- at the contemporary stone president's house where she lives on campus.
Liz Chuday, Class of 1978, was one of the first guests.
"I was still angry about the co-ed business, as many of my classmates were. We felt we chose this school because of its philosophy," says the Homeland resident who is president of Chuday Communications.
"Because of this dinner, I certainly have cooled off a lot. I think Judy will mend fences."
In February 1997, Mohraz again was building bridges.
Angry students held a forum to protest a basketball coach's racially insensitive remark after he referred to the team as "my plantation." Mohraz encouraged a schoolwide examination of how students and faculty members deal with race.
"It was a blessing in disguise," says LaJerne Terry Cornish, Class of 1983, who earned her master's degree from Goucher in 1994. "It opened up conversation and caused people to talk to each other."
Mohraz is credited with pushing the college into the national spotlight by inviting such notable speakers as Hillary Rodham Clinton; Jody Williams, the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; and Arun Gandhi, grandson of India's late leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Last year, she earned widespread recognition as co-chairwoman a panel investigating unethical and criminal incidents at the Naval Academy.
"She brought energy and a willingness to contribute her time and herself," says co-chairman Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director and academy graduate. "She came with a brilliant mind and the ability to look at the problems objectively."
Passion for education
Former SMU colleagues agree.
"She's just what you see," says R. Hal Williams, a history professor who worked closely with Mohraz at SMU. "She's nice. She's smart. She has a passion for education."
For most of her 20 years at SMU, Mohraz taught history. She became an associate provost the last four years of her tenure. She was content, she says, to remain at the university, where her husband of 25 years, Bijan Mohraz, is a tenured professor of mechanical engineering.
Then she received a surprise phone call from a search company about the Goucher opening.
"Judy had a strong academic background and accomplishments the academic field and higher education," says Barbara Fritze, vice president of enrollment management at Goucher, who served on the presidential search committee. "It was all these things she brought to the table that set her apart [from the other applicants]."
Second female president
Mohraz was selected as Goucher's ninth president and the second woman to assume the top role. She succeeded Rhoda Dorsey, who was president for 21 years before retiring.
Now, Mohraz and her husband have a commuter marriage that brings him to Towson on weekends. They have two sons, An- drew, 22, a legal assistant in Washington, and Jonathan, 20, a sophomore at Georgetown University.
Her efforts to connect with students have won her points. Senior Will Vought, 21, recalls his freshman year, when Mohraz gave up her parking place to set a tone of equality. He also noted her availability to students in "campus chats" and through e-mail.
"Her level of passion and interest in Goucher students and the community as a whole is unmatched," says Vought, who calls Mohraz by her first name.
Sitting recently in the Goucher office -- shared with a 4 1/2 -foot stuffed brown bear that wears a button asking, "Have you hugged a college president today?" -- Mohraz chuckles about life's unexpected twists.
After all, this is a woman who says she got her doctorate because she wasn't picked to be a cheerleader in junior high school in Waco, Texas.
"I always said jokingly that's why I earned my Ph.D., but there is truth in it," she says. "I didn't win the election, which was the way so many women defined themselves in those years."
Instead, she delved into her studies, supported by strong female role models such as her mother, Mae Jolley, 87, a retired English teacher.
"I think more than anything with her it was her indomitable kind of optimism," Mohraz says. "She would see the glass half full. That was very powerful in enabling me to see a situation and see an opportunity more clearly."
Mohraz never looked back after the pompon put-down, earning her bachelor's and master's degrees in history at Baylor University in Texas and her doctorate at the University of Illinois.
When she became Goucher's president, she joined a comparatively small number of women -- 379, or 16.5 percent, in 1995 -- who headed higher-education institutions.
Though her success at Goucher undoubtedly will provide new opportunities, supporters hope she will remain.
"I just love her whole mission of what Goucher can be," says Jean Flah Silber of Lutherville, Class of 1954. "I just pray she stays at Goucher."
Mohraz has no plans to move on.
"I love to become rooted in a place. Look, I spent 20 years at SMU," she says. "As long as the institution seems to benefit from my presence and I'm still growing, I can't see not being here."
Pub Date: 11/22/98