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A sense of familiarity greets 2 new university presidents


For Janet Dudley-Eshbach and Calvin Lowe, taking jobs as presidents of universities in Maryland was something of a homecoming.

That's quite literal for Dudley-Eshbach -- her academic career has taken her as far as Mexico, but she is returning to the state where she was born, to the Delmarva Peninsula where she grew up, not far from the beaches where she has taken family vacations since childhood.

"I always like the feeling of sand between my toes," says Dudley-Eshbach, the new president of Salisbury State University. "There's something about life on the lower Eastern Shore. Whenever I'm in a meeting in Annapolis or Baltimore or Washington, I always feel good when I get back across the Bay Bridge and head south."

For Lowe, who got his doctorate at the high-powered Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his first faculty position at the University of Kentucky, it is part of his return to the type of school that nurtured a young student from Roanoke Rapids, N.C., part of the first generation of his family to attend college.

"I wanted to be at an institution where I could have an impact," says Lowe, the new president at Bowie State University.

Both step into positions that come with a bit of pressure.

Salisbury State is clearly an institution on the way up, with rising statistics for its entering class and rising recognition as a solid state school. But many on campus felt left in the lurch when William C. Merwin left last year as president after only three years to take over a school in Florida.

"I've had an eye on Salisbury State University for a long time," says Dudley-Eshbach, 47. "It's no secret that I applied for the presidency when it was open four years ago. I plan to be here for the long term. How can you have it any better than this?"

Bowie State's last permanent president, Nathanael Pollard Jr., left under a cloud, resigning after votes of no confidence from the faculty and allegations that funds from the school's foundation were mishandled. His interim replacement, Wendell L. Holloway, decided he wanted the permanent job, and many of his supporters on campus were disappointed when Holloway was not one of the finalists for the $165,000-a-year position.

"I am not worried," says Lowe. "I think if you include people in your vision for the school, they will come with you."

In Lowe's office, his vision is outlined in the types of charts and diagrams you would expect from a physicist -- from straightforward plans for buildings to drawings of the vectors of the forces and flow of communication and support that go into turning the ideas he has for Bowie State into reality.

It was North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black college like Bowie State, that introduced Lowe to higher education. His father, a construction worker, had a second-grade education. His mother, a homemaker, didn't make it through high school.

"My father was a great shade-tree mechanic," Lowe says. "He was always taking things apart and fixing them up. I think that's where I got my interest in how things work."

With his twin brother Walter, Lowe went to North Carolina A & T, in Greensboro. Both brothers got doctorates in physics -- Calvin at MIT, Walter at Stanford University. Walter is on the faculty at Howard University.

Calvin Lowe took a job at Kentucky but left to join the faculty at Hampton University, a historically black school in Virginia. He became chairman of the physics department at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, then returned to Hampton in 1995 as graduate dean and vice president for research.

"He's very smart, and he wants to make a difference," says Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who has known Lowe for a decade. "He's an excellent thinker who sets very high standards for himself and others. He genuinely believes all students learn."

At Bowie, Lowe takes over a school that is, in many ways, a historically black college by day and a very integrated graduate school in the evening. And he comes to Maryland as the state is examining the role of its historically black institutions, with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights seeking greater diversity in all of the state's schools.

"I think we should look at the 'H' in HBI," he says, using the acronym for "historically black institutions." "Go back to what Booker T. Washington said about educating the head, the heart and the hand.

"You talk to older alumni of these schools and they tell you about the professor who would reach in his pocket to help a student pay for food, books, tuition, whatever. These institutions educated you in what kind of person you were supposed to be. We need to get back to that."

Lowe, 45, says that traditionally black colleges took students who were the first generation of their families to go to college and taught them not only what they could learn from books, but what they needed to know to get on in a world with which they had had little contact.

"That could be something as simple as telling somebody that they should not wear their hats while inside a building," he says. "I am not about to institute a dress code, but I don't think there is anything wrong with explaining to students the appropriate dress for particular occasions."

Lowe says that historically black schools should continue such nurturing in this post-civil rights era. "The students who could use that kind of education today come in all colors -- African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, across the board," he says.

Diversity is an issue facing Dudley-Eshbach at Salisbury State where less than 10 percent of the school's student body is African-American.

"That's high on my agenda," she says. "We need to be a bit more aggressive in our efforts."

Dudley-Eshbach agrees with others at the school that the proximity of the historically black University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (UMES) makes minority recruiting more difficult. She sees the expansion of cooperative programs with UMES as an important way of making the Salisbury State campus more diverse.

"But we are not going to put all our eggs in that basket," she says. "We have to do more to attract Salisbury State students from these underrepresented groups."

A straightforward, plain-speaking woman, Dudley-Eshbach was the clear favorite of the various campus and community groups who interviewed the top five candidates for the $170,000-a-year job.

But she almost didn't make that cut. After several sleepless nights dealing with a problem at Fairmont State College in West Virginia, where she had been president since 1996, search committee members say Dudley-Eshbach had a bad interview. She was the first alternate, and when another candidate dropped out, she was invited to the final round on campus. There she made a favorable impression.

She had made it back to Maryland once before in an academic odyssey that took her from Wilmington to Indiana University -- studying Spanish and classical guitar -- then to Mexico City for her graduate studies, hanging around coffee shops of the Zona Rosa, discussing art, literature and politics. "Those were good days," she says with a twinge of nostalgia.

She taught Spanish language and literature at Allegheny College north of Pittsburgh for a year before making her first attempt to head back home, coming to Goucher College in 1979.

"I remember her as a lively young faculty member," says Rhoda M. Dorsey, then president of Goucher. "She was funny, popular and ambitious. And she's certainly gone a long way. I think she will be a strong addition to what is already a strong group of women presidents in Maryland." Women also serve as president at UMES and Frostburg State University, among other institutions.

Dudley-Eshbach says she got her first taste of administration at Goucher, a half-time position as director of the first-year program. She liked the work and pursued it; her husband, Joe, took early retirement as an engineer in the Chessie System and learned a more portable profession -- nursing. He has taken a job at a Salisbury hospital. They have two teen-age children.

Dudley-Eshbach left Goucher -- and her home region -- in 1988 to become chairwoman of the Department of Modern Languages at the State University of New York in Potsdam, far upstate, rising in the administration to provost , the top academic officer. She headed back south, to become president at Fairmont State.

"I've been trying to get back here ever since I left," she says.

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