“One of the advantages of being a chancellor at a new institution is that very opportunity to take advantage of the region you’re in and identify the gaps that are not being taken care of by other institutions.”
- Calvin B.T. Lee , Portrait of a Chancellor, 1973, UMBC Screen Arts Dept.
“The problem is how we are going to design a curriculum that is really responsive to students who will be living in the year 2000. What kinds of academic tools do they need in view of the fact that they may be changing careers three or four times? These are profound questions that have to be posed as we approach the future.”
- Calvin B.T. Lee, “UMBC educator: Chancellor Lee plans ahead to the year 2000,” The Sun, April 26, 1972.
“We have to be concerned with moral values. Not much attention is paid to that in most curricula. It can’t be done simply by courses. It requires basic understandings that cut across departmental lines and allow scientists and humanists to work together and discuss problems together.”
- Calvin B.T. Lee, “UMBC educator: Chancellor Lee plans ahead to the year 2000,” The Sun, April 26, 1972.
“I ran the restaurant straight through college and law school, I suppose that’s why I’m as efficient as I am.”
- Calvin B.T. Lee on running his family’s restaurant in NYC Chinatown after the death of his father. “UMBC’s new head would adapt route to degree to individual,” The Sun, October 5, 1971.
Calvin B.T. Lee was UMBC’s second chancellor. Lee is remembered at UMBC for his efforts to enhance the number of minority students, faculty and staff at the institution, and strengthen the relationship between UMBC and the City of Baltimore. Lee is also remembered for his controversial resignation after a vote of “no confidence” was conducted by the faculty.
Lee had a rather extraordinary life. He was a third-generation Chinese-American, born and raised in Chinatown, New York City. His father owned a famous Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood aptly named, “Lee’s Restaurant” on the corner of Mott and Pell streets. The restaurant was entirely a family-run venture. Lee joked in an interview that, “sometimes I say that I was named after the restaurant.” After his father died during Lee’s freshman year at Columbia University, as the oldest child in the family he took over management for the next seven years, working 40-60 hours a week running the restaurant while simultaneously finishing a bachelor’s, then law degree at Columbia University School of Law. Lee obtained his law degree in 1958, and that same year published his first book - a cookbook, “Calvin Lee’s Chinese Cooking for American Kitchens.” The cookbook proved to be his best-selling book despite Lee publishing 7 other books on the topic of higher education. Soon after starting to practice law on Wall Street, Lee sold the family restaurant. In part, he kept the restaurant running all those years in order to support his younger sister and brother through school. It was a decision for which he claimed his mother never forgave him.
After practicing Law in New York for several years, Lee began his career in education when he was asked to returned to Columbia University in 1961 to assist on a temporary project, the Columbia College Citizenship Program for which he served as the assistant dean and director. The Citizenship Program was a civic-minded, volunteer-based venture that linked Columbia and Barnard college students with needy schools, hospitals and municipal offices in the community. Lee then returned to school and received his doctorate in law from New York University School of Law in 1968. From 1968 to 1971 Lee served as the dean, then acting president of Boston University College of Liberal Arts. In 1971 Lee was selected as chancellor to UMBC by a 19-member committee out of 100 candidates; he was 37 at the time.
A major priority of Lee’s chancellorship was to enhance the representation of diversity in the faculty and students at UMBC and he was largely successful in this venture; for instance, the number of Black students doubled in only his first two years as chancellor. He often spoke of UMBC as an “urban campus” and sought to strengthen UMBC’s ties with the African-American community in Baltimore which was often either unaware of the school or viewed it as “a resource primarily for white students.” In 1972 Lee introduced an Office of Minority Recruitment with a 28 year old director, Reginald W. Lawrence. In addition to recruitment, the office was created to assist enrolled students of color with the cultural or financial hurdles that minority students often encounter.
Lee ran his presidency with an eye towards the far-future. He wanted to specifically prepare his students for a 21st Century world where he envisioned students may change their careers 3 or 4 times and that their education must make efforts to equip them for that. In 1972, Vice Chancellor Morton Baratz, Research Professor in Political Science Sanford Greenberg and Chancellor Lee developed the ambitious “Project 2000, Toward Higher Learning for the 21st Century.” Project 2000 was a humanistic, utopian, long-range plan for students and the university. The Sun quoted Lee on his philosophy surrounding the project, “The problem is how we are going to design a curriculum that is really responsive to students who will be living in the year 2000. What kinds of academic tools do they need in view of the fact that they may be changing careers three or four times? These are profound questions that have to be posed as we approach the future.”
A book published by Lee during his tenure, “Invisible Colleges,” received considerable press. The book, co-written with Alexander W. Astin, was a study that identified a large number of private American colleges, mostly centered in the Midwest and Southeast, that would not survive if they were not subsidized by their states. These invisible colleges tended to be small, unselective, underfinanced and often religiously affiliated. The book argued that the colleges were important because they offered students diverse types of education in areas dominated by the powerful universities. However the study angered many of the colleges as provided a negative image.
In the last few years of his tenure, Lee became increasingly unpopular among the faculty. His unpopularity stemmed from faculty feeling that he was ineffective in representing the college, acquiring funds or promoting their interests in College Park or Annapolis. In addition, the faculty was unhappy with Lee’s use of veto power concerning faculty promotion and tenure. In 1974, Dr. George A. Klein, a popular assistant professor of history was denied tenure despite a faculty committee voting 6 to 1 in his favor. The decision prompted loud protest from students and the university senate, questioning Lee’s use of “absolute power.” 700 students signed a petition in support of Klein and protesters threatened to march on the admission building if their questions were not addressed in a timely fashion. Subsequently, Lee and Vice Chancellor Baratz, met with around 300 students and faculty to explain their decision and field questions. Another incident occurred in 1976, when 14 faculty positions were cut for the next year due to budget constraints. Many faculty members felt strongly that he did not fight to keep those positions. To top it off, the faculty was annoyed when it was discovered that Lee was being considered for the position of president at Tufts University, seemingly revealing his lack of commitment to UMBC. The actions taken against Lee were led by small but powerful faction of the faculty. This included Dr. Rothstein, a sociology professor and chapter chairman of the American Association of University professors who was quoted by The Sun as declaring at a meeting in which Lee was present, “We might be better off if we had some new leadership.”
A vote was conducted by the Faculty Affairs Committee in March, 1976, resulting in 108 out of 139 faculty members voting “no confidence” in Lee’s “ability to provide appropriate leadership.” Shortly thereafter Lee submitted his resignation, effective August 31st, 1976. The vote was an unusual event; The Baltimore Sun declared a confidence vote held by faculty had never before occurred at a university in Maryland.
By the time Lee had begun his chancellorship at UMBC, he was divorced from his first wife with whom he had two boys Christopher and Craig, and had remarried Audrey Evans, his assistant from Boston University. Part of the controversy surrounding Lee’s resignation related to the Guilford home that he and Audrey shared. Guilford is a high-income neighborhood in North Baltimore. Lee made a large number of improvements and updates to his home during his chancellorship that were paid for by the college. A whopping $22,160.47 worth of equipment, furnishing and decorations for Lee’s home were provided by UMBC funds throughout his tenure. That amount was reported by UMBC to the State Board of Higher Education in 1976, the year of Lee’s resignation, after a special investigation was carried out by the board into the compensation and fringe benefits of Maryland University System chancellors and presidents. After his departure, Lee made arrangements to purchase $10, 085 worth of the interior decorations and furnishings that could be effectively removed from the home. The rest of the items that had been purchased for the home by UMBC would go to the college (except the drapes, carpeting, dishwasher and air conditioning equipment which were sold with the home). In addition to this payment, Lee had to pay over $2,000 for personal long distance telephone charges that were accrued on the university-paid phone lines. Lee was angered by some of the charges that were required of him in his parting as he had been under the impression that the college was footing the bill for all the improvements made to his home and complained that there was never a limit set to his budget (the funds were taken from various departmental budgets including the physical plant, equipment and grounds maintenance). A Baltimore Sun article quoted Lee, “It was just a kind of gentleman’s agreement. I wish in hindsight that all of these understandings had been in writing... I never thought that they would come back to haunt me.”
Lee’s hiring by UMBC in 1971 was in fact contingent on an agreement he made with the college relating to housing. Albin Kuhn’s old home was not available to Lee at the time because it had been raised to make way for the library. In light of the fact that his position as Executive Vice President of Boston University had a higher salary and included housing, the school negotiated that the college would pay a $6000 annual housing allowance and would, “provide furnishings for the area which would be used for public purposes. The furnishings would remain the property of the University.” The furnishings, meant only for the first floor of his home where he would be entertaining for college-related events, were not written into any agreement, however they accounted for the bulk of the $22,160.47. Items purchased for Lee’s home included 22 chairs (of various types), 12 tables (sideboard, card table, drop leaf table, tea table etc.), multiple sofas, lamps, shelving, a new compactor, freezer, refrigerator, icemaker, dishwasher, vacuum, typewriter, calculator, wallpaper, draperies and installation, $2000 worth of carpeting and $3,500 worth of interior design consultation from their friend and Boston decorator, Charles Lamar. The college even paid for the services of a full-time housekeeper/cook (annual salary $9,686) as well as weekly lawn maintenance provided by university staff. All of this was in addition to the annual $6000 off-campus housing stipend that he received (in lieu of no on-campus president’s home) and an annual salary of $42,000 by the time of his departure.
After his resignation, Lee entered private business being hired as vice president of Prudential Insurance Company. His responsibilities involved the training and education of the company’s 70,000 employees. Sadly, Lee passed away from cancer in 1983 at the young age of 49 at his home Chatham Township, New Jersey.
“Portrait of a Chancellor” January 1, 1973, Produced by University of Maryland Baltimore County and U.M.B.C. Screen Arts Department.
UMBC Special Collections, University Archives, Presidents Office Records Coll 50, Series II
UMBC Special Collections, University Archives, Institutional Advancement records Coll 097, series I
“Lee’s years end amidst controversy” UMBC Retriever, December 7, 1981, Vol. 16, No. 14, Pg. 1.
“Boston Educator Named UMBC Chancellor: Dr Calvin Lee Chosen To Take Over Position Of Dr. Albin O. Kuhn” The Sun, August 19, 1971, Pg. A15
Mary Knudson, “UMBC’s new head would adapt route to degree to individual” The Sun, October 5, 1971, Pg. C12.
Barry Rascovar, “Board Probes Ordered For UMBC, Funds: Rights Panel Is Told Campus, Charities Are Anti-Negro” January 13, 1971, Pg. C20.
“Audrey Lee Gets Oriented As Frist Lady of UMBC” The Evening Sun, February 14, 1972, Women’s Section.
“Douglas grad heads UMBC minority office” The Afro American, February 26, 1972, Pg. 20.
Randi M. Pollack, “UMBC educator: Chancellor Lee plans ahead to year 2000” The Sun, April 26, 1972, Pg. B1.
Antero Pietila, “State unit charges racism at UMBC” The Sun, February 9, 1972, Pg. C24.
“UMBC officials explain firing” The Sun, March 28, 1974, Pg. C7.
Mike Bowler, “Faculty seeking UMBC vote on Chancellor Lee” The Sun, March 5, 1976, Pg. C20.
Dewayne Ickham, “Ex-UMBC chief replays $10,000” The Sun, September 16, 1976, Pg. A1.
Mike Bowler, “Chancellor of UMBC to resign” The Sun, July 21, 1976, Pg. C1.
“Calvin Lee, ex-UMBC head, dies” The Sun, March 15, 1983. Pg. D5.