With a bagpiper, a chorus of bow-tied vocalists and all the pomp of a college graduation, the Community College of Baltimore County officially celebrated yesterday the arrival of its new president.
Sandra L. Kurtinitis described the opportunity to lead the college's three campuses as the capstone of her 39-year career as a professor and administrator of community colleges in Maryland and Massachusetts.
"I have been in training for this day and this job for my entire life," she told the audience that crowded into the Catonsville campus's theater and gave her several standing ovations. "I take it on as almost a sacred trust."
Kurtinitis, who joined the college a year ago but was not officially installed as its president until yesterday, promised to support teaching and learning, to finish the job of blending CCBC's three campuses in Catonsville, Essex and Dundalk into one cohesive academic institution, and to "make a priority of improving the spirit, confidence and pride of all of our people" in campus grounds and facilities.
Those who spoke about Kurtinitis at the ceremony praised her energy, her leadership style and her commitment to accessible and affordable community colleges.
Alluding to an earlier joke about the difficulty of finding words that rhymed with the new president's last name for a tribute poem, a lawyer representing a group that awards scholarships suggested that "Unitas" might be an appropriate match.
Noting that Hall of Fame Baltimore Colt Johnny Unitas stood for "quarterbacking and leadership," Michael C. Hodes of the CCBC Foundation said, "I hope Sandra can live up to that legendary skill set. But that's what we need here - we need a good quarterback."
The college's previous chancellor, Irving Pressley McPhail, stepped down from his post in June 2005 amid growing complaints about his leadership style. He spent $400,000 to move his office from Catonsville to Dundalk. And there was criticism about an administrative staff perceived as top-heavy, with at least four vice chancellors and two presidents, each of whom was paid more than $100,000 annually.
Upon her arrival at CCBC in October 2005, Kurtinitis moved quickly to address those concerns.
She restructured the administrative staff, eliminating the position of chancellor and dividing the work of the previous eight or nine top administrators among four vice presidents.
In her remarks yesterday, Kurtinitis referred to the changes as having "flattened the administrative structure."
Kurtinitis also fostered greater accessibility, said CCBC Student Government Association President Anthony Brown.
Under the past administration, the executive suite with the chancellor and Cabinet's offices was barred to students.
"She opened it up," Brown said in an interview after yesterday's ceremony. "This ... 'us versus them,' this 'staff and administrators versus students' has slowly faded away."
Thomas M. Lingan, chairman of the college's board of trustees, said that Kurtinitis' openness has extended to the college faculty, county government and legislative delegation as well.
"She's got this disposition that invites dialogue and inclusiveness, but she's not beyond being a tough decision-maker," he said in an interview.
Kurtinitis said jokingly that she got her first job - as an English professor at Prince George's County Community College - because the dean with whom she was to interview overslept. The man was so embarrassed when his secretary called to wake him up that he offered Kurtinitis the job over the phone.
She was 23 at the time, Kurtinitis said in her address, and figured she would stay only as long as it took Harvard University or Williams College to find her.
But after 22 years at the Prince George's community college, she went to Berkshire Community College in western Massachusetts, Quinsigamond Community College in central Massachusetts and now CCBC. During that time, community colleges - the "ugly duckling" of higher education, as she said they were initially viewed - "turned into the proverbial swan."
Of her own professional trajectory, Kurtinitis said, "What started as a job became a career. What was a career became a passion. And what became a passion has become a life."