Towson University new president, Kim Schatzel, Ph. D., talks about the impact the school has on the state and the economy. She will be inaugurated on Friday, September 16, at SECU Arena at Towson. (Baltimore Sun video)
One year ago, the Baltimore County Council approved a pilot program to hold landlords in six neighborhoods surrounding Towson University accountable when their tenants host "unruly social gatherings." Some property owners weren't initially happy with the proposal — landlords of disruptive renters could face citations costing hundreds of dollars and requiring tens of hours of community service if problems became chronic — but they eventually supported the measure.
Today, that looks like a good call. Since the law went into effect, complaints about disruptive parties in neighborhoods like Towson Manor Village and Burkleigh Square are down substantially — last August, for example, there were just three compared to 21 the year before, according to Towson University. Baltimore County police and the state's attorney see signs of improvement as well. Under the circumstances, it's no surprise that other nearby communities including Riderwood Hills, Loch Raven Village and Rodgers Forge want to join the list and the County Council is likely to approve the expansion later this month.
That sounds like a good idea. Landlords in those neighborhoods may not be wild about this new obligation (just as there was opposition to the pilot program a year ago), but it hardly seems beyond the pale to hold them accountable under the circumstances. That law already gives landlords the benefit of the doubt — tenants must be penalized first; landlords get a warning on first offenses. But it's also a matter of property owners looking out for their own interests as disruptive tenants are likely to be damaging the property as well.
So while it's true that landlords can't control tenant behavior, they are certainly known to look out for their own financial interests. Whatever one might think of college students, they are seldom immune to the authority carried by their landlord to either bill them or, perhaps more effectively, to contact the individuals who may have co-signed the lease — their parents.
Town-gown relations have long been an issue for Towson University, but substantial progress has been made over the years. Towson President Kim Schatzel has continued the kind of outreach effort conducted by her predecessors, Robert Caret and Maravene Loeschke. They responded to the legitimate concerns of those who live near by the campus by engaging in a dialogue with community leaders and being more forthright about the school's intentions.
In a recent meeting with The Sun's editorial board, President Schatzel expressed her ambition to further build on that relationship. She would like to see the school be more involved in downtown Towson — much as she witnessed at the University of Michigan — with student housing part of the mix. If such a formula can work so successfully in Ann Arbor, she noted, why can't it help promote downtown Towson?
That's a worthwhile conversation, but we strongly suspect there are still many living in Towson who aren't yet prepared to make the leap. A half-dozen years ago, plans to create just such a student housing complex as part of the Towson Circle III development were greeted with all the enthusiasm of "mystery meat" night at the dining hall. The downtown dorm was quickly rejected. The problem? Too many Towson residents see students as the rowdy, cursing crowd wandering the sidewalks outside the Greene Turtle and not the model young adults the university likes to portray.
Still, there's no question that Towson University is changing. It's growing and branching out in fields like medicine and technology, leaving its days as a modest state teachers college a distant memory. Perhaps the school's relationship with downtown can best be described as a work in progress. Expanding the social host ordinance is a step in the right direction, but it may take a few more such steps before that bigger jump is possible.
Today, there's a quarter-mile between the campus and downtown. It's bound to shrink, and the best way to do that is building a bridge — and we're not just talking about the two-year-old one across Osler Drive that connects the school with West Village. The more local residents feel connected with Towson University, the more they believe they can trust the school's leadership, the more likely they are to be invested in its future.