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Coppin State University is again at a crossroad. Since 2003, six presidents have served Coppin State. Today, the university is left with an enrollment drop from nearly 4,000 to 2,700. Graduation rates hover below 30%, and concerns about the institution’s survival grow as campus morale plummets.

As Coppin nears the completion of a search for a new president, rumors of merger and restructuring abound.

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Primarily a commuter institution, Coppin attracts students from across the region and internationally. Dedicated staff include many 30-year veterans. The faculty features graduates from some of the most prestigious universities in the country: Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Howard, Maryland and Morgan. This faculty and staff continue to provide exceptional instruction, caring advisement and meaningful engagement in scholarship and innovation. Coppin alumni are prosperous and productive throughout the region and the nation.

Coppin is a very attractive inner-city campus with state-of-the-art technology, matched with a location in Baltimore that affords convenient access to the arts, culture, historical venues and scientific inquiry. The university has the potential to offer an ideal small campus, where students can grow in a myriad of ways. The promise is great.

Problematic presidential leadership has not moved the institution forward, however. While the recent presidents may have been sincere and hopeful, they were not successful in transforming Coppin into a vibrant competitive university. Fifteen years ago, with new construction and enrollment growth, the institution was poised to move to greater heights.

The University System of Maryland (USM) chancellor and the Board of Regents (BOR) bear the major responsibility and authority to provide productive oversight to Coppin. They have not met this challenge. They appoint the presidents and have major influence over university functioning. Recent presidential choices have been subservient and tepid in their vision for Coppin. Faculty, staff, students and alumni have been circumvented or ignored in university decision-making.

Unfortunately, the current search for a new president is not open nor inclusive. Nevertheless, the new president must be able to partner with the campus and the community to fulfill Coppin’s mission and promise. Since its inception 119 years ago, Coppin has withstood many survival challenges. It still has great potential to be a serious influence in West Baltimore’s future.

Many of the challenges that afflict most American cities also affect West Baltimore. Coppin should be involved in developing innovative approaches to help meet West Baltimore’s major challenges. Coppin’s next president must be a transformative leader who can listen and visualize, one who invites a wide range of thought and creativity without maintaining administrative walls of exclusion. There must be respect for institutional and community history and culture. Coppin’s next president must assertively partner with the Board of Regents and the chancellor to build Coppin’s best future. Presidential submissiveness and rote obedience must be overcome with a strong commitment to make Coppin a strong USM partner and not an afterthought. Coppin has yet to be all it can be for West Baltimore and the region. Now is not the time for another missed opportunity to build a great future for Coppin.

John L. Hudgins is an associate professor of sociology at Coppin State University. His email is jhudgins@coppin.edu.

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