When Kurt L. Schmoke becomes the eighth president of the University of Baltimore in July, he’ll assume the reins of a state institution that has seen its growth become a stabilizing force in a portion of the city where he was once mayor. It is also an institution that faces challenges as it seeks to continue to expand into a four-year institution that some want to be seen as the city’s university.
Schmoke returns to Baltimore to head a university that is much different than it was when he served as mayor from 1987 to 1999.
“There’s tremendous support for the hiring of Kurt Schmoke across the board,” said Daniel A. Gerlowski, an economics professor and president of the university faculty senate and member of the search committee that ultimately made the hiring recommendation. “We know he was very successful at Howard University and had a number of positions there.”
The University System of Maryland announced the hiring of Schmoke Wednesday morning, completing a process that began nearly a year ago when outgoing university President Robert L. Bogomolny announced he was leaving the position he has held since 2002.
“I am thrilled and honored to be selected as the next president of the University of Baltimore, an outstanding higher education institution located in a great city and a great state,” Schmoke said. “Offering a high quality education at an affordable cost has been a hallmark of the university, and I am committed to continuing that tradition. I look forward to working with faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends to make a great university even greater.”
Schmoke currently serves as interim provost and general counsel at Howard University. He previously served as dean of the Howard University School of Law from 2003-2012 and was mayor of Baltimore from 1987 to 1999.
The university has changed greatly since Schmoke’s tenure as chief executive of the city and even more since its founding in 1925 as a business and law school in 1925, when it had 62 law and 114 business administration students.
Bogomolny oversaw a period of expansion at the university that was seen primarily as a post-graduate institution. The university grew its physical presence in the Mount Vernon area as well as increased the number of faculty. In 2007, it opened its doors to its first incoming freshman class in more than three decades.
“Kurt Schmoke has a wealth of higher education, legal, public policy, and community service experience that will serve the University of Baltimore and the University System of Maryland extremely well in the years ahead,” said University System of Maryland Chairman James L. Shea. “With his knowledge of the City of Baltimore and the surrounding region, he will be able to have an immediate impact on enhancing opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and the city. The Board of Regents is confident that he will be an effective and successful leader.”
As mayor of Baltimore for three terms, from 1987 to 1999, Schmoke devoted much of his attention to housing, education, public health, and economic development. During that time, the city struggled to overcome a high crime rate and problems of neighborhood blight.
During the past 11 years, Schmoke has held a variety of positions at Howard University. Before his appointment as interim provost and general counsel, he was dean of the university’s school of law from 2003 to 2012. During this period, he focused on increasing bar exam passing rates and expanding the clinical law program. He also has served as Howard University’s deputy provost of academic affairs and director of government relations.
Schmoke will be confronted with a lagging graduation rate at the school of 6,500 students.
In March, the university announced the Finish4Free program, which would pay the costs of the final semester for any student on track to graduate in four years.
The announcement was one attempt to address statistics showing that 18 percent of freshmen in the 2007 class graduated within four years, slightly below the national average of 19.8 percent at schools with similar academic profiles, according to Peter Toran, vice president of university advancement and communications, in a March interview.
The rate is one of the lowest among state universities.
The graduation rate for students who began as freshman in 2007 increases to 36 percent after six years, Toran said in that same interview.
“We are in the pack,” Gerlowski said. “People widely agree that we are within the national norms. We want to be better than that and that is what we are looking to Kurt Schmoke for.”
Gerlowski said the university faculty is optimistic about the arrival of Schmoke. His knowledge of and ties to the city are seen as an asset.
“There’s a buzz I’ve never seen on campus before,” Gerlowski said. “The university has grown in enrollment, faculty and in its footprint. We think Kurt Schmoke is extremely qualified to bring us new growth and move us closer to being Baltimore’s university.”