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Morgan president to retire in 2009

Earl Stanford Richardson, the hard-charging educator who led Morgan State University through a rapid and at times rocky transformation from underfunded urban college to modern research university, said yesterday that he plans to retire at the end of next year.

The announcement, which has been rumored for a week and comes toward the end of a tumultuous year for a school at the academic and cultural heart of black Baltimore, was greeted with tributes even from those who have tussled with the occasionally feared leader during his 24-year tenure.

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"We've had some disagreements over the years," said University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, whose 11-campus system has engaged in well-publicized battles over funding and new academic programs with the independently managed Morgan. "But I have nothing but admiration and respect for what he has accomplished."

Richardson, 65, did not give a reason for his retirement or make himself available for questions. "After 25 years, it's time," said school spokesman Clinton Coleman.

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In a statement, Richardson, an Eastern Shore native who became the 11th president of the historically black college in 1984, said his focus would be on his final 14 months through the end of 2009. "I doubt very seriously that I will have any real time to think about retiring," he said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley credited Richardson yesterday with leading Morgan to national recognition. Dallas R. Evans, chairman of Morgan's board of regents, called the retirement announcement "the end of an era."

Richardson oversaw "growth of programs, expansion of physical facilities on the campus and improvement in enrollment numbers, as well as in the quality of students admitted," Evans said.

Richardson has endured his share of controversies and has drawn criticism from some who say that he browbeats politicians into giving the public school favorable treatment.

Most recently, a legislative audit released this year found multiple managerial mistakes relating to building contracts, and led to a continuing criminal investigation by the attorney general's office.

In response, lawmakers withheld more than $3.1 million for a new business school this year until the university overhauls its procurement processes and convinces legislators that its board of regents is providing sufficient oversight.

Five years ago, Richardson's near-legendary influence among Annapolis lawmakers began to wane when The Sun reported that Morgan officials had compiled a "secret dossier" on Del. Howard P. Rawlings while the influential legislator was dying of cancer. Rawlings, a Morgan alumnus, was chairman of the influential House Appropriations Committee and had long criticized his alma mater for what he saw as poor management and under-performance.

After years of successfully blocking competing academic programs at nearby universities - on the argument that duplication promoted racial segregation - Morgan and its allies in Annapolis were unable to overturn a recent decision by the Maryland Higher Education Commission to let Towson University grant master's degree in business administration.

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Maryland's higher-education secretary, James Lyons, tried to deflect attention from those recent events, which had been the subject of considerable media attention.

"I would hate to see his legacy tied up in the competition" between Morgan State and other campuses, Lyons said. "There's bound to be conflicts from time to time ... but his legacy is as a fighter, a champion of Morgan, the strong visionary leader ... willing to fight anybody and anywhere to advance the cause of Morgan."

When Richardson arrived at Morgan State in 1984, the underfunded campus was struggling with accounting troubles and enrollment that had shrunk from a high of 6,300 in 1972 to less than 3,500. Under his direction, the university started offering doctoral degrees, boosted enrollment back above 6,000 and launched a half-billion dollars in construction projects, including a gleaming new library and fine arts center.

"Dr. Richardson has helped transform Morgan State University into the nationally recognized educational institution it is today," O'Malley, whose former City Council district included the Morgan campus, said in a statement.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said Morgan's success in preparing students for engineering careers is a cornerstone of Richardson's legacy. "The absence of such a great administrator will, of course, leave big shoes to fill," Dixon said in an e-mail. "I'm certain that whoever is Dr. Richardson's successor has a solid foundation in place to carry this great institution forward."

The university's regents will formally take up Richardson's retirement at their November board meeting and start planning a search for his successor, officials said.

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A native of Westover in Somerset County, Richardson earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and an education doctorate in administration from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976. From 1965 to 1969, he served in the Air Force.

He began his career in higher education with the then-University of Maryland system, from 1975 to 1984. He also briefly directed the admissions office at UMES.

Since Richardson arrived at Morgan, the university has added bachelor's degrees in engineering, master's degrees in teacher education and engineering, and doctoral programs in engineering, history, math and education.

"The campus is nowhere near the campus that I went to," said Baltimore Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, who attended Morgan from 1977 to 1980. "His successor, he or she, has big shoes to fill."

Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.


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