Hoke L. Smith: President, 1979 – 2001

To celebrate the inauguration of Kim Schatzel as Towson University’s 14th leader, we are looking back at the past leaders of the school. These essays are from a book we helped craft, Towson University: The First 150 Years.

Dr. Hoke Lafollette Smith was, like Fisher, a Midwesterner from Illinois. Born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1931, Smith received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Knox College in 1953. He earned a master’s degree in 1954 in foreign affairs from the¬†University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in political science from Emory University in 1958. After serving as provost at Drake University, he became Towson’s tenth president in 1979.

Many faculty and staff saw President Smith as an opposite of Dr. Fisher. Whereas Fisher was outgoing and sought to bring more attention to his presidency and to the changing role of Towson in the state, Smith was quieter, less inclined to seek attention to his presidency, and more scholarly in demeanor and interests. Both men were dedicated to similar goals in continuing the growth of Towson and improving the quality of academic programs, faculty, and students. During Smith’s 22-year administration, the University flourished and expanded, even during some very difficult years in the early 1990s when the budget was affected by a global recession.

One of his first actions was to appoint a committee to study the organization of the institution. Following the committee’s recommendations and building upon Fisher’s basic structure, Smith moved the university to its next logical step by creating six colleges in 1981. They were the College of Business and Economics, the College of Education, the College of Fine Arts and Communications, the College of Health Professions, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics. Two more colleges were later added: the Honors College in 1998, and the College of Graduate Studies and Research in 1999.

Smith challenged the faculty to continually improve the quality of teaching while at the same time pursuing their research interests and applications for external grants. He encouraged them to increase publications and to become more active in national scholarly organizations. To support the faculty, Smith provided up to $450,000 in faculty development grants each year for research, teaching improvements, and publications. This funding was supplemented by grants within each of the colleges. President Smith also established a yearly Leadership Program to improve the communication and cooperation between the faculty and administrative staff.

One of the major changes for Towson came in 1988 when the state created the University System of Maryland by combining the 11 schools, including Towson, and two research centers into one governing body. 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.

The lack of adequate funding and the need for a clearer recognition of Towson’s mission were among the factors in the 1997 decision to remove the word “State” from the name of the school and to become Towson University.

Through all this change, Smith managed to guide Towson’s steady growth. The campus footprint grew with the addition of six new housing/apartment units. Several academic buildings were renovated, two buildings were acquired, and a number of parking garages were constructed. The academic program grew as well, doubling the number of available master programs by the end of Smith’s time in office.

Smith was a recognized leader in a number of national organizations. He served as the chair and on the Board of Directors of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and of the American Council on Education. In addition, he was a member of thr American Association of Higher Education, the Association of American Colleges, the Baltimore County Executive Higher Education Forum, and the Greater Baltimore Committee Leadership Program.

After his retirement in 2001, Smith was named President Emeritus, Towson University, and was also a Visiting Professor of Higher Education, University of Maryland, College Park. Until his death in 2004, he continued to be involved in Maryland education by participating in special projects in the College of Education and by teaching a graduate course on university presidency.



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