A Celebration of Towson Leadership

Towson University, formerly known as the Maryland State Normal School, the State Teachers College at Towson, Towson State College, and Towson State University, has had thirteen principals and presidents, three interim presidents, and one principal ex officio with founder Libertus Van Bokkelen.

The office of Principal/President has had to contend with the same difficulties throughout the history of the school: legislative pressures to amend the program, enrollment changes, the need to update and enlarge the campus, and clashes between the school and the state’s wishes.  However, the role of the office has changed as educational standards and societal mores have changed.  Once considered a mentor or even a stand-in parent, the President is now someone who spends less time guiding an individual student’s work and development and more time leading the University’s growth.

When the school opened as the Maryland State Normal School in 1866, it was led by Principal McFadden Alexander Newell, the driving force behind the school for the next twenty-four years.  He oversaw the curriculum for MSNS, taught most of the classes in the early years, and was also responsible for the day-to-day administrative duties of the school, the coordination with the model school, and ultimately, devising the curriculum for all the public schools for the entire State of Maryland as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  He was also the President, ex officio of the State Board of Education from 1871 until 1874 when he was elected Secretary.  He remained Secretary until departing MSNS in 1890.

During the summer, he would travel to each county and offer seminars to public school teachers who could not attend MSNS to introduce them to the newest educational standards.  He also moved the school three times, finally settling into the first school built specifically for MSNS at Carrollton and Lafayette Avenue in West Baltimore in 1876.  He had to procure lab equipment, textbooks, and library materials, and also approved local boarding houses for students use since there was no dormitory space at the school.  His duties were numerous and divergent, and Newell met his tasks with great energy.

When the school started, Newell was one of four teachers as well as the only administrator, but by 1890, Newell’s staff included a Vice-Principal, two assistants, a Principal for the model school, and three other faculty members.  This larger staff reflected the steady growth in enrollment during the almost quarter of a century that the school had existed.  In 1890, 48 students attended MSNS.  By 1890, the population had grown to 321, an almost 600% increase in 24 years.  Faculty and administrative growth would continue with Newell’s successors as enrollment continued to grow.

1883 photograph of the MSNS faculty. Newell is at center in back, Richmond is seated to his right, facing the camera.

In fact, the enrollment of the school had grown so quickly that the space at the Carrollton building was also now too small.  Sarah Richmond, the fourth Principal and also an alum of the first class of MSNS, began a campaign to move the school soon after she took office in 1909.  After receiving approval and funding from the Maryland State Legislature, Richmond moved the school to the larger campus at Towson in 1915.  The new site meant a larger physical plant and MSNS had dormitories for the first time in its history.  Richmond’s time was increasingly taken up with overseeing students’ behavior as well as their educational experience.  In turn, the school’s staff rose to twenty-two members, with the Principal, an assistant, fifteen faculty members, and five support staff who oversaw things like the library and the dormitories.

When the nation entered World War One in 1917, enrollment at MSNS dropped, due in part to the draft but also because the salaries for teachers were considered low.  People knew that they could make more money in civil service jobs than they could as public school teachers.

Henry West, Principal at the time, realized that he had to open the campus up to the community to attract interest.  He invited the Red Cross to hold training events on campus, started summer sessions, and tweaked the curriculum to offer more practical classes that concentrated on wartime economy and first aid.  Towson also created its first recruitment film with “The Call of the Hour”.

West’s efforts were not all internal.  He also studied teachers’ salaries and began a campaign to raise the pay rates of the state teachers, hoping that by doing so more prospective teachers would be attracted to the school.

West’s time at Towson was short, but the important work he started here continued with his successor, Lida Lee Tall.  She recognized the importance of creating rich social lives for the students and bringing new experiences to them, on and off-campus.  Students regularly visited New York City, started new traditions like the large medieval Christmas dinner and the spring May Day celebration, and also started the first student newspaper.  In 1937, the Works Progress Administration made clearing and updating the Glen one of their projects.

After the end of World War I, enrollment surged, due in some part to the merging of the Baltimore Teacher’s Training School with MSNS in 1924.  Tall had taught at BTTS and perhaps her presence at MSNS helped aid that transition for the faculty who joined the campus.  The campus expanded for the first time with the creation of another women’s dormitory, Richmond Hall, the year before in 1923, and a building to house the Campus Elementary School in 1933.  This building would be named the Lida Lee Tall School in 1942, and later re-named Van Bokkelen Hall in 1960, after the second Lida Lee Tall School building was constructed.

And the curriculum was becoming more challenging.  The program was expanded from a two-year curriculum to three.  Students had advisors to lead them through the process.  Classes expanded beyond English, Elocution, and Calisthenics and now students were taking Psychology, Health, and Geography classes as well.  By 1932, Tall oversaw a campus community of 65 staff and faculty members, including 11 staff members that ran the campus elementary school.

In 1935, Maryland law transformed all of the five State Normal Schools (now known as Bowie State University, Frostburg State University, Coppin State University, Salisbury University, as well as Towson University) into State Teachers Colleges, and students earned four-year baccalaureate degrees instead of teaching certificates.  Tall was given a new title, President, and it is the title still used today.  By the next year, the school was meeting accreditation standards set forth by the American Association of Teachers Colleges and the American Council of Education.

Developing programs to attract new students was also undertaken by the next President, M.Theresa Wiedefeld.  She was head of the State Teachers College at Towson during World War Two when enrollment was declining and employees were difficult to retain, again because of the amount of civil service jobs that were available as well as the draft.  In the meantime, there was a teacher shortage in Maryland.  Under her leadership, the College developed a special program for cadet teachers as well as an accelerated program to condense four years of schoolwork into three years.  Both of these efforts were designed to help alleviate the teacher shortage in the state.  Wiedefeld also inaugurated the junior college program for returning veterans.  This program was the basis for the liberal arts program which would become a four-year baccalaureate program in 1960.

1962 Alumni Association photo. Wiedefeld is seated, second from the left. Hawkins stands behind her.

Wiedefeld was also  an alum of MSNS, having graduated in 1904, and joining its faculty in 1914.  She left Towson in 1919 to become the Supervisor of Anne Arundel County schools.  In 1924, Wiedefeld was appointed Assistant State Supervisor of Elementary Schools, and later became Supervisor, a position she held until her return to Towson in 1938 as President.  Long after her retirement from Towson in 1947, Wiedefeld remained active in its Alumni Association.

The post-World War Two period for the school was one of amazing growth and expansion in enrollment, campus facilities, and academic programs.  Earle Taylor Hawkins became President of the school in 1947, and during his twenty-two years of leadership, enrollment increased by over 2100%, and more than 12 structures were built on campus, more than doubling the number of existing buildings.

Hawkins also oversaw the transition of the school from a small teachers college to a liberal arts institution that would become the second largest public institution of higher learning in the state of Maryland.

In order to better serve the school, Hawkins added to the administrative level of his staff and began delegating work to two Deans, a Dean of Students and a Dean of Instruction, in 1949.  A well-known educator in Maryland, Hawkins had been the Supervisor of High Schools for Maryland before taking over the Towson presidency, and was still very much in demand as a speaker for area schools and businesses.  The need to delegate the work of the Administration grew as the school did.

When Hawkins retired in 1969, the school staff had grown to 50 positions and the faculty had over 300 members.

Fisher on left and Hawkins on right at news conference.

Hawkins’ successor, James L. Fisher, would continue that trend, not only because the school programs were growing and needed the support but also because Fisher was attempting to bolster the image of the College in the face of what many perceived as a lack of recognition from state leaders.  Perhaps the most obvious sign of this is the struggle Fisher undertook to have the name changed from Towson State College to Towson State University in 1976.   He maintained that the name change was necessary to attract prospective students and add credence to the work done on campus.  At first, the state rejected the request, but after putting specific guidelines in place to differentiate between a college and a university, the school became Towson State University on July 1.

Under Fisher, the school expanded by another 10 buildings and enrollment boomed to over 15,000 students, more than doubling the number of those attending when he started.  To keep up with that enrollment, the Administration grew to almost 600 employees including about 450 faculty members.

Fisher also split the Administration up into very specific groups, creating departments for Academic Affairs, Student Services, Business and Finance, and Institutional Development.  He installed four Vice Presidents to head each of those departments.

Hoke L.Smith, President from 1979 until 2001, expanded upon Fisher’s vision for the school.  After appointing a committee to study the organization of the school, he created a new governance structure, establishing the Colleges that oversee the academic programs.

Hoke L. Smith

Despite all these moves within and without the University, Smith managed to guide Towson through another round of steady growth.  Campus housing continued to expand, and the academic program grew as well, doubling the number of available Masters programs by the end of Smith’s time in office.  And Smith put into place the fundraising efforts that would support the University as aid from the state dwindled.Smith was also President when Towson joined the University System of Maryland, now known as the University of Maryland System in 1987.  However this merger caused Smith some consternation because of perceived inconsistencies with funding within the system and from the state, as well as concerns about lucrative degree programs that were not available to Towson because of fears of competition with other universities in the system.  Some of these factors contributed to the decision in 1997 to remove the word “State” from the name of the University.

Robert L. Caret

In 2003, Robert Caret, a former professor, dean, and provost under Smith, took over the Presidency.   It was expected that Caret would continue to court outside investors while still making the case for needed funding from the state legislature.  Caret continued to expand the academic offerings of the school, enlarged the campus again, worked to bring a strong athletic program to the campus, and increased the University’s endowment.  Unlike his predecessors, Caret had more success with the state legislature and Board of Trustees in securing funding for the school.   He also reached out to area businesses and began expanding the University beyond the campus borders by creating academic programs with other institutions and with the proposed building of a Towson-affiliated campus in Harford County for graduates of Harford Community College.

Caret left Towson in the Spring of 2011.  The announcement for the Office of President specified that any candidate contemplating the position should “be a proven, outstanding leader who can articulate a compelling vision of academic excellence in liberal arts; effectively fundraise; strongly advocate for institutional resources; develop a strong sense of community with an appreciation of shared governance; demonstrate an unfaltering commitment to diversity; and actively foster an environment of intellectual pursuit and personal growth for students, faculty and staff.”

Maravene S. Loeschke

After an 8-month search, Maravene Loeschke, member of the Class of 1969 and professor at Towson for many years, was appointed President and began her term on January 1, 2012.  Towson University will celebrate her Inauguration on September 14, 2012.

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