No one can say Robert L. Bogomolny, president of the University of Baltimore, didn’t have a good run.
When Bogomolny took the top office in 2002, UB was a two-year university that offered a handful of graduate programs and was located in a beleaguered neighborhood that did not reflect the desired image of a high-quality institution.
When he steps down as president next August, Bogomolny will leave behind a rebranded four-year university with a greater variety of academic programs, surging enrollment, a larger faculty, several new buildings and a much-improved neighborhood.
“The average life of a president these days is a little under eight years, so I’ve outlived that by a substantial amount,” he said. “I thought I would spend three to five years here, but because of the nature of this place and how dynamic we’ve been, it’s turned out to be 12. But it’s time. I will be 76 by the time I complete my 12th year, and it seems it’s time for me to fade quietly into retirement.”
After a year-long sabbatical — which Bogomolny said will be spent traveling with his wife, whom he wed just five years ago — he will rejoin the university as a law professor in fall 2015.
Bogomolny succeeded former president H. Mebane Turner, who was greatly admired during his 33 years leading the downtown university.
Turner’s were big shoes to fill, but Bogomolny recalls feeling invigorated — never intimidated — by the opportunity to address a number of “very interesting challenges” facing the school at the time, he said.
“I had the sense, and it turned out to be true, that student bodies were changing, student demands were changing and that universities needed to change,” he said.
And change UB did.
In 2007, under Bogomolny’s leadership, UB admitted a freshman class for the first time in 32 years. Since he came on board, the university has unveiled 31 new academic programs and completed the most successful fundraising campaign in its history.
Of special note is the John and Frances Angelos Law Center, a $114.3 million project that opened in April and was funded with both public and private dollars.
“He’s certainly very politically astute,” said Byron Warnken, an attorney and associate law professor at UB. “You don’t get the right people on your side to persuade the legislature to give you $92 million [for the new law building] in tough economic times without learning how to work the system. Dollars don’t just fall out of the sky. He seems like a pretty ear-to-the-ground kind of guy.”
Bogomolny also recognized the need to offer more humanities courses, which were originally housed in one school called the College of Liberal Arts. That school was split into two: the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Public Affairs.
University-wide, student enrollment has increased by 32.8 percent since 2003, while full-time faculty headcount has increased by 33.1 percent.
During his term, the university implemented a master plan that increased campus square footage by more than 50 percent and reshaped the Midtown neighborhood with $275 million in capital investment — much of it private.
Along the way, Bogomolny has amassed an army of admirers, including Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“He created an environment that supported faculty in building these academic programs, and that’s what presidents are supposed to do,” said Hrabowski, who last year was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Bogomolny also saw his share of controversy, most notably in 2011, when he played a heavy-handed role in the resignation of then-law school dean Phillip Closius, who stayed on as a faculty member. The pair butted heads particularly over Closius’ accusation that the university was unfairly using tuition revenue generated by the law school to pay for non-law-related budget items.
After Closius stepped down as dean, the school undertook a study of the financial relationships between several other law schools and their universities. As a result, UB pledged to increase the law school’s budget by $5 million over the next five years.
“I am a very direct person,” Bogomolny said. “I tend to tell people what I’m feeling and thinking. …But another way of looking at that is that it’s part of why we’ve been so successful. Sometimes changing an institution rubs some people. It’s not always smooth. But I think that if you’re going to come in and affect the long-term health of an institution, you have to be willing to face up to the tension that that can create.”
Ronald Weich was named dean of the law school last year.
More recently, and less dramatically, another one of Bogomolny’s hires — Darlene Brannigan Smith — decided to step down as dean of the Merrick School of Business and take a year-long sabbatical before returning as a marketing professor. Frank Navratil, a professor in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University in Ohio, will serve as interim dean while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement.
The search for Bogomolny’s own successor will begin within the next several weeks. The University System of Maryland Board of Regents will make the final selection. Officials expect to have a new president lined up by the start of the 2014 academic year.
Hrabowski said he has seen Bogomolny demonstrate a strong ability to form professional, as well as personal, relationships that proved essential in achieving goals at UB.
“He’s had to be effective in working with the University System of Maryland and with elected officials,” Hrabowski said. “And he was — he did a great job at that. He really did. And the proof is in those facilities. He really took the institution to the next level. Anybody who looks at that is going to have to say: ‘Job well done.’”