David J. Ramsay, who helped push the redevelopment of Baltimore's west side while presiding over prestigious law and medical schools, announced Thursday that he will step down after 15 years as the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Ramsay, who will remain in the job until a successor is chosen, announced the decision in an understated e-mail to the campus.
"It has been my privilege to spend these last fifteen years at the helm of the University of Maryland, Baltimore and to participate in its remarkable growth and development," he wrote. "But all good things must come to an end."
The publicity-shy president declined to be interviewed after his announcement, but colleagues quickly stepped in to praise him.
"I don't think the word transformational is too strong to describe his leadership of the university," said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. "He has made it into a national powerhouse as a collection of professional schools."
Kirwan praised Ramsay's commitment to research and the community around his campus, and noted his deft hand in selecting deans.
"He maintained a wonderful balance in his leadership style between creating a vision and a set of expectations, and letting people run their own domain of activities," Kirwan said.
E. Albert Reece, whom Ramsay recruited to become dean of the medical school in 2006, agreed. "He looks for people who are independent-minded," Reece said. "Then he creates a nurturing and supportive environment for those people to blossom."
Despite his commitment to medical and scientific research, Ramsay also came off as the law school's No. 1 fan, said departing dean Karen H. Rothenberg.
"He's able to, in his own unique style, encourage collaboration without letting his own ego get in the way," she said. "And that's not easy. It wasn't always like that here."
She credited Ramsay with transforming UMB from "a regional university to one with an international reputation."
Ramsay, a 70-year-old London native, was educated at Oxford University and began his career as a professor of physiology. He moved from that position into an administrative role at the University of California, San Francisco and to UMB in 1994.
There, he supervised a downtown campus that includes many of the University of Maryland's leading graduate programs, including the schools of medicine, law, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and social work. He also served on the board of the University of Maryland Medical System.
Ramsay said early on that he hoped to turn the campus into a bustling research center, and in that quest, he spent liberally to lure renowned scientists and helped to develop a cluster of biotechnology businesses, known as the UM BioPark. The university now attracts about $450 million a year in research funding.
Ramsay also oversaw a westward expansion of the campus and pushed for the rehabilitation of the Hippodrome Theatre, calling it a linchpin to the renaissance of surrounding neighborhoods. The feel of the campus changed during his tenure, with many more students living nearby.
Ramsay has served on the boards of numerous community organizations, including the Greater Baltimore Committee, which honored him with its Regional Visionary Award in 2004.
Rothenberg said Ramsay loved to have photos snapped with the law school employee of the month. "He really enjoyed the people part of it," she said.
A committee will begin searching for Ramsay's replacement in the next few weeks, but Kirwan said he did not know how long the process would take.