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History of UMBC

This guide contains information about the available resources for conducting research on the history of UMBC's origins, people, departments, and traditions.


These biographies were researched and written by graduate assistant Tucker Foltz, M.A. '17, history, for the exhibit, "Presidents, Past & Present: A Biographical Portrait," also curated by Foltz and on display in the Library Rotunda in Spring 2016. Each section includes select quotes, a comprehensive biography, and additional resources.

Albin O. Kuhn, Chancellor 1965-1971

"Each of you brings individual background, talents and education to our new campus. Collectively, you are a different student body from any previously assembled. In working with the faculty and staff of UMBC, make the most of this opportunity to help create a center of learning in which those who give their best in the laboratory and on the playing field develop a brilliance that is the mark of their efforts and the UMBC environment."
- Albin O. Kuhn in a letter to the first class of UMBC. From UMBC News Vol. 1, No. 1, Sept., 1966

"Working on the development of UMBC was the chance of a lifetime -- from nearly 500 acres of vegetable farm to full-scale university."
- Albin O. Kuhn on building UMBC from scratch. "Kuhn: University-Building Farming" The Sun, July 25, 1983, Pg. E1.

"From my days of studying genetics, I learned that like begets like: The people you choose are going to be the ones who influence the character and personality of the place."
-Albin O. Kuhn on his faculty. "Kuhn: University-Building Farming" The Sun, July 25, 1983, Pg. E1.

Dr. Albin Owings Kuhn was the first chancellor of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. At the time, he served as chancellor of the two Baltimore campuses; UMBC and the downtown professional schools -- otherwise known as the University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMAB). Kuhn dedicated 42 years of his life’s work to the University of Maryland System. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D from the University of Maryland, College Park. As an undergraduate he majored in agricultural education and minored in agronomy (B.S., 1938), as a graduate student he majored in botany and minored in crop production (M.S., 1939) and he received his doctorate in agronomy with a minor in plant breeding and plant physiology (Ph.D, 1948). He served as an assistant professor and then an associate professor for the Agronomy Department while working toward his degree. A mere month after receiving his doctorate, Kuhn was appointed professor and head of the department. Steadily progressing in his career at the University of Maryland, Kuhn was appointed assistant to the president in 1955, executive vice president in 1958, vice president of the Baltimore campuses in 1965, and finally chancellor of the Baltimore campuses in 1967.

Kuhn found it a “fascinating experience” to have been put in charge of both the youngest and oldest campuses in the University system, UMBC and UMAB respectfully. The University of Maryland School of Medicine (part of UMAB) is the founding institution in what is now known as the University System of Maryland and it is also the first public medical school in the country; the first class to graduate was 1810. UMBC, the system’s youngest, was the only school in the system that did not begin as a teacher’s college or other private school before joining the University of Maryland.  Kuhn held the position of chancellor over the two university campuses until 1971, seeing UMBC graduate it’s second class, when the Board of Regents voted to separate the two colleges and appoint a chancellor to each. The decision was Kuhn’s as to which school he would head and he reluctantly chose UMAB as that school required more growth and attention at the time. Additionally, he felt such closeness to UMBC that perhaps it was time for someone else to take the reins. Kuhn remained chancellor of UMAB until 1980. Under Kuhn’s direction at UMAB, the caliber of faculty and student rose, the campus grew from 8 to 38 acres, the size of the university hospital doubled, and enrollment grew from 1,600 to 4,800. In 1980 Kuhn returned to College Park to serve as Executive Vice President (for the second time) before retiring in 1982. In his 42 years of service to the University of Maryland, Kuhn only took a brief leave of absence from 1944 – 1946 to serve in the U.S. Navy as a line officer in the Pacific.

Albin O. Kuhn had agrarian roots for which he was proud. He was born in Woodbine, Carrol County and raised on a dairy farm in Lisbon, Howard County. Prior to his retirement, for over twenty years, Kuhn developed a 220 acre, 110 head cow farm of his own outside of Woodbine, nearby to his childhood home. Once retired, Kuhn spent his years as a dedicated cattle farmer. He also built a batten board home for himself on the property where he lived with his wife Elizabeth (Libby) Cissel Kuhn. Libby and Albin had five children together: Phillip, Joseph, Roger, Lois and Albin Owings II. After the death of Libby in 1986, Albin remarried Eileen Louise Weller Kuhn in 1995. Albin passed away on March 24th, 2010 at 94 years old.

UMBC was launched as a university at a turbulent era in United States history. The 1960’s were an especially tumultuous time on college campuses, with large student groups staging protests against social concerns such as the Vietnam War and racial inequality. The energy of unrest did not miss UMBC and a large part of the protests which occurred during the college’s first decade directly concerned the ethics and practices of the institution as students demanded agency in creation of the traditions and character of the young college. Large student demonstrations didn’t begin at UMBC until the ‘69/’70 academic year. In reflecting on his chancellorship at UMBC, Kuhn felt that the faculty and administration had done a good job of listening, understanding and communicating with the students, and managing to “avoid major problems.”

An early controversy which garnered a loud protest from students was the decision made to shut down Dialogue, a student published literary magazine, after a 1969 issue contained nude photographs of male and female dancers. As a result Kuhn had to appear before the Baltimore County Senate Delegation along with University of Maryland President Wilson H. Elkins. Kuhn condemned the publishers for allowing such content and promised that future publications would not contain similar matter. The issue resulted in a ban of the publication, instated by the Board of Regents and backed by Kuhn. In the fall of the following school year, as the ban still stood, the students protested that the ban was a suppression to their freedom of expression. Kuhn pointed out to students in a meeting that the decision was not to be a democratic one as funding for the magazine came directly from the State. The student’s protest to the ban was coupled with other grievances, specifically the lack of power students had in administrative decisions. Some students were especially upset at Dean of Faculty Homer Schamp’s denial to allow a student to participate in the faculty tenure-and-promotion committee.

Another student protest, this one larger and lengthier than the last, occurred in April, 1970 when students occupied the Administration Building for nearly a week holding demonstrations and sleep-ins. The students were unhappy with the college’s decision to eliminate 4 professors from the faculty. Students felt that they had no power in faculty hire/fire decisions, and that the current policy placed too much emphasis on faculty research and publication rather than quality classroom education.

The next major controversy concerned the practice of institutional racism and came to a head in 1971, the last year of Kuhn’s chancellorship. UMBC had begun as early as 1969 to make a concerted effort to recruit black students to the overwhelmingly white campus but didn’t have much early success. At that time, African-American students made up less than 2.5 percent of the student population; if racial balance was to be achieved that number would have been closer to 17 percent. In the fall of 1971 a group that called itself the UMBC Black Caucus of Faculty and Staff gave a presentation to the state Human Relations Committee, declaring that not only was there disproportionately small numbers of African-American students, faculty, and staff, but that there was no institutional system set up to support low income minority students, and also that the college maintained a discriminatory hiring policy. The state Human Relations Committee thereby launched an investigation into systematic racism and racial discrimination at UMBC. In February, 1972 the committee found the school guilty of discrimination in their operational policies and procedures. The school contested that the State’s report was conducted with outdated information and that the university had made vast changes in the prior year. These changes included raising the number of Black students to 8 percent, hiring a number of new Black faculty, and seeking outside consultation for how to better serve their minority populations. These campus changes occurred in conjunction with the transfer of chancellorship from Kuhn to Calvin B. T. Lee.   

Known to be an approachable leader, Kuhn made a number of extra efforts to immerse himself into the UMBC community. In 1968 he created an Advisory Committee to clarify to the chancellor of any issues on campus affecting the students, faculty or administration. Members were mostly high-profile individuals such as the dean of students, the director of student life, the SGA president and the editor-in-chief of the RETRIEVER. Discussion topics included subjects such as integration at UMBC, the usefulness of a Winter Session, faculty-student relationships, and admission/retention standards, etc. Decisions were not made at these meetings but rather served to keep the chancellor briefed on important happenings outside of his office. Kuhn and his wife Libby were also dedicated members of the UMBC duckpin bowling league; membership consisted of clerical staff, physical plant staff and faculty.

Always a humble man, Kuhn was quick to praise his administrative team for their talents. He had particular affection for such members as Mrs. Lucy Wilson, with whom he worked for 25 years and who served him as assistant to the chancellor at both campuses. He referred to her at least once as the “nerve center” of his team. Also there was Homer Schamp, professor of physics department, the first full-time professor hired at UMBC who served as the dean of faculty and then was elected by the Board of Regents to be Kuhn’s vice chancellor in 1969.

Kuhn took a very active role in the college’s physical design. He worked closely with the architecture, planning and design firm, Rogers, Taliaferro, Kostritsky and Lamb (RTKL) to design the UMBC campus. Kuhn was full of ideas; in fact, it was his vision to create the loop around the school with the library forming the heart of campus.  The loop accounted for heavy traffic expected, as UMBC was always meant to be a commuter school, but also diminished the amount of pedestrian/vehicle interaction. He made his suggestion to the firm and they used it. Kuhn even advised the firm that they abbreviate their own name to RTKL for efficiency. The international design powerhouse still uses the abbreviated name today.

In June, 1982 at a party held for Kuhn’s retirement from his long service to the University of Maryland system, a surprise announcement was made that the newly constructed library at UMBC would be named the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery in his honor. It was the first building at UMBC to be named after an individual. The library was built on the site of an existing farmhouse which served a number of purposes in the college’s early years including at one time or another: Kuhn’s home, administrative space, and the beginnings of the library.


Faculty - Staff Bowling League 1968-1970, Series I, Box 2, Folder 21, President's Office records, University Archives, Collection 50, Special Collections, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Baltimore, MD).

Graduation 1971, Series I, Box 3, Folder 12, President's Office records, University Archives, Collection 50, Special Collections, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Baltimore, MD).

Graduation: Preliminary Planning 1970, Series I, Box 3, Folder 20, President's Office records, University Archives, Collection 50, Special Collections, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Baltimore, MD).

Albin O. Kuhn papers, University Archives, Collection 44, Special Collections, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Baltimore, MD).

Kuhn family scrapbook, University Archives, Collection 127, Special Collections, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Baltimore, MD).

Charles V. Flowers, “Kuhn: University Building Farmer”, The Sun, July 25, 1982, Pg. E1.

“Legislators, UM Officials to Meet Over Nudes Flap”, The Sun, February 26, 1969, Pg. C8.

“Students Vow Future Action: Catonsville Protesters Object to Continuing Magazine Ban” The Sun, October 1, 1969, Pg. C14.

A. N. Said, “UMBC’s Negro Recruiting Produces Low Yield of 80”, The Sun, September 8. 1970, Pg. C10.

Barry Rascovar, “Bias Probes Ordered for UMBC, Funds: Rights Panel is Tols Campus, Charities are Anti-Negro”, January 13, 1971, Pg. C20.

“UM library to be renamed after first chancellor”, The Sun, December 13, 1982, Pg. C2.

Calvin B. T. Lee, Chancellor 1971-1976

“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. 


University Archives:

“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

Newspaper Clippings:

“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.

John Dorsey, Chancellor 1977-1986

“The University of Maryland Baltimore County is but 13 years old; yet it is difficult to identify more than four other major public university campuses in the nation that have progressed as well in development of excellence in a comparable period.”

- Dorsey in a Letter to the Editor, “Education is Baltimore’s True Strength” The Sun, September 29, 1979. Pg. A15

“Before taxpayers are encouraged to measure the effectiveness of education by the single yardstick of annual cost, they should be fully informed of the educational and social benefits which result from their investment.”

- Dorsey in a Letter to the Editor, “Education is Baltimore’s True Strength” The Sun, September 29, 1979. Pg. A15

“Enrollment is up, SAT scores are up, everything is up.”

- Chancellor Dorsey upon his resignation from the university. “Chancellor of UMBC said to be quitting” The Sun, March 9, 1985, Pg. 1A.

After one academic year of leadership from acting chancellor Louis Kaplan, John Dorsey became UMBC’s third chancellor in 1977.  Dorsey was contacted by the UMBC Search Committee and asked to apply for the position. A few members on the committee were familiar with Dorsey from College Park where he was currently serving as the as the vice chancellor of administrative affairs. UMBC historian and history professor Joseph Tatarewicz has said that Dorsey’s time at UMBC is largely considered a time of stabilization for the institution both externally and internally; externally, by strengthening relationships with Maryland legislators and governing bodies and internally, by healing UMBC’s “internal wounds.” A 1979 Sun article characterized Dorsey to be, “known as a quiet administrator who works primarily behind the scenes.” 

In many ways, John Dorsey’s origin story is very similar to Albin O. Kuhn’s. All though the two never worked closely together, they certainly knew each other from the administrative circles of College Park. Dorsey like Kuhn, was raised in rural Maryland on a farm, and like Kuhn, was recognized as an exceptional student at the University of Maryland and as a post-graduate, steadily made his way through the professional ranks of the university to eventually land the position of chancellor at the system’s newest school. 

Dorsey was born in Hagerstown, MD and raised in Sharpsburg, MD, the site of Antietam Battlefield. Sharpsburg is a small town of less than 1000. His father was a farmer and Dorsey spent his childhood helping out on the farm. His mother was a schoolteacher with a degree from Shepherd College. One condition his mother required before marrying his father was that they would not live on a farm. So the Dorsey family lived in a house on Main Street and his father commuted daily to the farm. John was an only child.

Dorsey received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland College Park in 1958, Phi Beta Kappa. Originally he intended to study law; during his undergraduate studies he switched to economics at the suggestion of economics professor and mentor, Dudley Dillard. After graduating he received a Rotary Scholarship from the London School of Economics for and lived in London for a year while completing his graduate degree (1958-1959). During that year he used his free time to travel all over Western Europe, venturing as far out as the Soviet Union, an eye opening experience for the young man.  After London he was granted a two-year scholarship to Harvard and earned his doctorate in economics in 1964. After graduating Harvard, he returned to the University of Maryland to do administrative work for his earlier mentor Dudley Dillard, the then chairman of the Economics Department. In 1965 he took one a year leave of absence from the university to serve as a staff economist on President Lyndon B. Johnson's Council of Economic Advisors. Dorsey was asked to join the team by his former thesis advisor at Harvard, Otto Eckstein, who was an advisor to the president. After a year, he returned to College Park to take the position of vice chancellor of administrative affairs which he held from 1970 to 1977. His duties as vice chancellor were to manage all non-academic affairs (budget, physical plant, police department etc.). He also served as acting chancellor of the College Park from 1974 to 1975. In July, 1977 Dorsey became chancellor of UMBC

Much of his early work at UMBC was restructuring administration and academics to appease a changing campus whilst attempting to heighten the university's profile. With the end of the Baby Boomer population booster, admissions were down (as were the SAT scores of incoming freshman). The administrative system was too large and complicated in Dorsey’s opinion to work efficiently with a smaller student population. One major change he implemented was replacing four deans with one. He also resurrected and re-staffed the Admissions Department, with a new focus toward proactive recruitment.

Under Dorsey’s direction, the school added a number of new programs, greatly expanding their Graduate School, especially in degrees with healthy job markets (a requirement which students were especially looking for at that point). Information Systems Management, Molecular Biology, Computer Science, Engineering and more were all added under Dorsey’s chancellorship. Many of these did not come without heavy negotiation with other Maryland colleges by way of the State Board of Higher Education. For example, when UMBC pursued an engineering program they had to compromise with Morgan State who also wished to have a program. Consequently, Morgan and UMBC split a full engineering program, dividing the specialities. UMBC would offer Chemical, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering.

Some programs which were pursued by UMBC under Dorsey’s chancellorship where were simply denied. For example UMBC was denied a business school because it would cause too much competition with the local program at University of Baltimore. In order to stay afloat, UMBC was also combining and moving a few programs to the campus from other institutions, such as nursing from UMAB and information systems management from College Park. Finally in 1985, UMBC underwent a major readjustment by merging the Graduate School with University of Maryland at Baltimore to create UMGSB, the University of Maryland Graduate School, Baltimore, a merger which still exists today. 

Dorsey also had to fight considerable battles with the State Board for Higher Education who proposed to Maryland Legislature that the campus be shut down as it had declining enrollment and had essentially “done its job” in housing an overflow of Baby Boomers from College Park. Another proposal which had support from some politicians and faculty was a complete merger with UMAB. Dorsey was against the idea because he felt that the strong professional schools at UMAB would overpower UMBC’s ability to assert individual agency. College Park was also against the merger because it would produce a school large enough to rival the flagship campus. 

Dorsey’s tenure what not absent from controversy. Multiple times during his chancellorship, Dorsey and his administration came under fire from the student body and some faculty for decisions to deny tenure to popular professors. In 1978, unhappy students even circulated petitions of “no confidence” in the chancellor stemming from his inaction to respond to their demands. An estimated 200-300 students and some faculty held a protest in the cafeteria then marched to his office in the administration building. Grievances held by the faculty and students were very similar to grievances that had been heard by Chancellor’s Lee and Kuhn in UMBC’s early years. They centered on the parameters of tenure/promotion evaluation. Protesters felt decision making weighed too heavily on scholarly work rather than teaching quality and that students should have agency in the decision making process. In 1978 and again 1981, the UMBC administration received marked criticism for seemingly denying tenure to politically radical faculty. In the 1981 case, a popular assistant professor of political science, Dr. Phillip J. Brenner, who was a Marxist, was denied tenure despite unanimous recommendation by five committees of faculty and outside academics. Protesters linked the Brenner decision to earlier administrative decisions to not promote other politically radical faculty, sparking questioning as to whether the Maryland system was discriminating based on political preference. Dorsey felt the protesters did not often recognize that promotion didn’t end at his desk but would ultimately be resolved by University of Maryland President John Toll.

In April, 1979 the UMBC campus became the site of another lively protest when 75 students held a sit-in at the financial-aid office. Protesters held that a newly proposed residential lottery system was racially discriminatory. The system would give lowest priority to students who lived within an 8-mile radius, essentially forcing students from Baltimore, many of them Black, to live off-campus. The administration sought to hold disciplinary hearings for 15 of the 75 students, the greatest threat being expulsion. The high-profile students targeted included the SGA president, vice president and Black Student Union officers. Their highest offence was entering the financial-aid office which was closed to students due to confidentiality, all though the students did not touch any of the records. A second protest drew an even larger crowd, 150 students, who protested the planned disciplinary action chanting, “Free the UMBC 15!” After a meeting attended by Dorsey, select administrators and faculty, and the students and their lawyers, the decision was made to drop the charges against the 15, in part an effort to better the college’s record of relations with minority students. Part of the protest called for the college to create an Office of Minority Affairs. The college had opened an Office of Minority Recruitment in 1972 under the chancellorship of Calvin Lee. There was no Office of Minority Affairs opened under the chancellorship of Dorsey. 

Claims of racial discrimination at UMBC were again brought to the forefront around the time of Dorsey’s resignation. Students were particularly unhappy with the way the Office of Administration, the Office of Residential Life, and the Office of Student Affairs handled a number of incidents involving Black students living on campus. While Dorsey received praise from the BSU for finding some concessions with their demands, they called for the resignation of three college administrators. The issue came to a head less than two months before the end of his chancellorship and Dorsey refused to address  the issue, leaving it in the hands of incoming Chancellor Michael Hooker.

In 1985 Dorsey made the decision to step down as Chancellor of UMBC. Dorsey felt at the time that the college needed a different type of president; especially a leader who would focus specifically on fundraising and boost the college’s image in bureaucratic and business circles, tasks in which Dorsey found little interest. In an interview with Tatarewicz, Dorsey said of his parting UMBC, “if I make an honest assessment of myself, it was time to leave. There are certain things I enjoy doing, and I do them pretty well, but there are other things that fall into the next phase of chancellorship that I really hate doing, and we were at that stage. You needed a person who was in the fundraising business to go out and raise money for the campus.  You need a person who knew all of the fat-cats in Baltimore and around the state and shook hands and went to parties and did all that kind of good stuff that chancellors spend seventy percent of their time doing now, once you have a mature well-developed campus.” 

Under Dorsey’s chancellorship SAT scores rose by almost 100 points, enrollment rose from just over 5,200 to more than 8,150, and faculty grew as well. The annual budget also rose from $18.6 million to $46.2 million. After stepping down, Dorsey was named special assistant to President Toll. His main job was a university-wide economics project. After a few years, Dorsey even returned to teaching as an economics professor. He retired in 2001. John Dorsey passed away July 28, 2104 at his home in Laurel, Md. He was 78 years old.


Electronic Sources:

Sun Obit">

Washington Post Obit">

University Archives:

UARC OH-006, UMBC Founders Oral History Project: Interviewee John Dorsey, Interviewer Joseph Tatarewicz. 


Edward Coltman, “UMBC post likely to go to Dorsey” The Sun, May 3, 1977, Pg. C16.

Edward Coltman, “T.B. Day named top-aide to UMBC chancellor” The Sun, August 17, 1977, Pg. C3.

Edward Coltman, “Changes due at UMBC, Dorsey says” The Sun, September 3, 1977, Pg. B18.

“Protests nets tenure study at UMBC” The Sun, April 27, 1978, Pg. D5.

 “UMBC petition drive asserts ‘no confidence’” The Sun, May 9, 1978, Pg., C7.

“Gestapo Tactics at UMBC” The Baltimore Afro American, April 14, 1979, Pg. 4. 

“150 UMBC students demonstrate to back minority rights” The Sun, May 12, 1979, Pg. B20.

“UMBC drops sit-in charges in bed to better relations” The Sun, June 2, 1979. Pg. B1.

Robert Benjamin, “UMBC faults Marxist’s work, denies him tenure” The Sun, June 24, 1981, Pg. B1.

Michael David Ettlin, “UMBC denies Marxist tenure” The Sun, May 27, 1982, Pg. C20.

Mike Bowler, “UMBC head to be assistant to UM’s Toll” The Sun, March 10, 1985, Pg. 1D.

Mike Bowler, “Chancellor of UMBC said to be quitting” The Sun, March 9, 1985, Pg. 1A. 

Phillip Davis, “Black student groups at UMBC call for resignations of three officials” The Sun, May 15, 1986, Pg. 1B.

Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President 1993-Present

“What is amazing about my institution is we are working to prepare kids of all races to excel in school at a time when we need more educated Americans than ever before.”

- Freeman Hrabowski, TedxMidAtlantic, October 2012


“We need to change the culture of science teaching and learning and that’s what’s exciting about UMBC because faculty decided let us look at how we might re-think the approach...”

- Freeman Hrabowski, TedxMidAtlantic, October 2012


“To me though smart was not about what you were born with, smart had to do with how hard you were willing to work… To me that was ‘smart,’ when you worked really hard, when you achieve a lot and you make A’s, not because you want the grades but because you dare to know.”

- Freeman Hrabowski, C-Span Oral History Interview,  July, 2011


"My success and the campus' success are the same. People appreciate what we've done at the university, and I enjoy telling the story."

- Freeman Hrabowski, “UMBC’s leader named one of 100 most influential” The Sun, April 18, 2012


“It is part of the work of education to have substantive relationships with your students”

- Freeman Hrabowski, “Generations of Students Attest…” The Sun, September 2, 2012

When Freeman Hrabowski became president of UMBC in 1993 he was already a familiar face on campus, having already worked six years for the university. He came to UMBC in 1987 from neighboring Coppin State University where he had been serving as vice president for academic affairs. At UMBC he took the position of vice provost then executive vice provost. He had been personally recruited for the vice provost position by then President Michael Hooker. After Hooker’s resignation in 1992, Hrabowski served a year as interim president for a year after before taking the permanent office. University System of Maryland Chancellor Donald Langenberg had tapped him for the position. He became president of UMBC at 42 years old and as one Baltimore Sun headline noted, he was the first African-American president of a predominantly white campus in the Baltimore area. Hrabowski’s dedication to the university has shown in all aspects of his leadership and he has stayed with UMBC for over twice the average tenure of a college president.

 Hrabowski holds a Bachelor’s in mathematics from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a Masters in mathematics and a  Doctorate in higher education administration and statistics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Freeman was only nineteen when he finished his undergraduate degree and twenty-four when he completed his doctorate. After receiving his doctorate he worked as associate dean of  the Graduate School and associate professor of statistics and research at Alabama A&M University for a year before coming to Coppin State University in 1977. At Coppin he served as professor of mathematics, dean of arts and sciences, and in 1983 vice president for academic affairs. It did not take long for administrators in higher education to recognize the talents of this vibrant, young educator, but it wouldn’t be until he came to UMBC that he began receiving national recognition. 

To fully comprehend Freeman Hrabowski as a leader and individual it is imperative to understand his extraordinary past. The surname Hrabowski comes from Freeman’s grandfather’s grandfather, who was a Polish slavemaster in rural Alabama. His grandfather was the first in the family to be born a free man. Hrabowski was raised in a middle-class African-American community in Birmingham, Alabama. This highly supportive community produced a number of other contemporary African-American leaders that were all classmates of Freeman, these include Angela Davis, Condoleezza Rice and Alma Vivian Powell. Hrabowski’s parents put a special precedence on education, they were both college educated teachers. Brown v. Board of Education occurred when Freeman he was four years old but despite this, racial segregation still was a stark reality in the Deep South. Freeman was merely twelve when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Martin Luther King Jr. chose Birmingham as the next location for their campaign. Freeman’s parents brought the impressionable youngster to hear Civil Rights leaders speak. Hrabowski has noted that hearing these speeches has had a lasting influence on his own public speaking style. One speech given by  Martin Luther King Jr. particularly caught his attention. King was promoting the controversial, “Birmingham Children’s Crusade” in an effort to keep up the momentum of the campaign while so many protesters were stuck in jail. Hrabowski took special interest in one point that King proposed; any Black child should have a right to attend any school in Birmingham. Hrabowski was a competitive student and an undeniably gifted child, especially in mathematics. He valued his intellect and understood that opportunity was not the same for Black and White children in Birmingham.  Freeman begged his parents and they were eventually persuaded to allow him to attend. In a children’s training session for the demonstration, the inquisitive twelve year old was asked to lead the march, and so he did. He lead hundreds of children to City Hall where he was spat on by Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor, thrown in a police wagon and locked in jail for five frightening days. Hrabowski understood, even at that age, the importance of equality in education. He lived the struggle to obtain it. He watched on television as students from his community were physically barred by the Governor of Alabama from entering an auditorium to register for classes at the newly integrated University of Alabama. At school, he was given textbooks covered in brown paper to hide the name of a White school that had previously owned them. 

As president, Hrabowski has fought hard to reverse the tendency of all students to avoid the maths and sciences or leave them for other majors during college years; especially absent from these professions are females and African-Americans. Hrabowski has had particular success excelling opportunities for women and men of color in STEM programs and UMBC has become known for turning out top minority students. Part of this success is due to the Meyerhoff Scholars Program which Hrabowski co-founded In 1988 with a grant from Baltimore based philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff.  This program supports minority students at UMBC in the STEM fields.  Originally open only to African-American males, it soon grew to include African-American females and as of 1996 it is open to students, “of all backgrounds committed to increasing the representation of minorities in science and engineering.” The Meyerhoff Scholars mission, which also reflects the school’s larger educational goals, is to support a faculty who change the “culture” of learning, promote a positive sense of shared identity within the group, and create a network of support for the students. The program has garnered tremendous recognition and become a model for colleges across the country that marvel at the president’s success.  There are currently 300 students enrolled and over 1000 alumni.

Under Hrabowski, UMBC has achieved a new level of competitive placement among American universities. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 U.S. News & World Report ranked UMBC the number one, “Up and Coming University”, and Hrabowski as one of America’s Best Leaders.  The New York Times called him “a university president who has probably done more to encourage interest in science and math among minority and low-income students than any other educator.” The school has gained much recognition as a leader in undergraduate teaching as well. By building relationships in Washington, Maryland and beyond, Hrabowski has secured considerable funding for the institution over the years. The college’s endowment has risen from $1 million, when he first became president, to to over $70 million. In those same years, research funding has risen from almost $10 million to over $90 million. Additionally, he has secured considerable funding for building projects which include thirteen new buildings, twelve major renovations, and the celebrated 71-acre, 525,000-square-foot research park, now called bwtech@UMBC Research & Technology Park, the vision of predecessor Michael Hooker. The Park hosts over 120 companies with a special concentration in cybersecurity, providing opportunities for internships and jobs to UMBC students and alumni.  

Hrabowski’s hard work at UMBC has achieved him an astounding amount of awards and honors in his lifetime. These awards often cite his positive impact not only as a university president but on the whole of society. In 1996 he was honored with the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring by President Bill Clinton;  in 2009 Hrabowski was named one of Time’s “10 Best College Presidents”; in 2011 he received the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence, the Academic Leadership Award by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Washington Post named him one of seven “Top American Leaders,”;  in 2012 he received the Heinz Award  and was placed on Time’s, “The World’s 100 Most Influential People list.” President Obama has asked for his advice on how to reduce college costs and increase students in the math and sciences and appointed him chair of his Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. Additionally, he has received honorary degrees from over 20 institutions. Hrabowski has written over 40 articles has coauthored two books on African Americans in higher education; Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males (1998) and Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women (2002). His first book penned alone is Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement (2015), and in it he divulges the story of his childhood and his own experiences in education. In 2011 Hrabowski and the Meyerhoff Scholars Program were featured on CBS’s Sixty Minutes, introducing his work to an ever wider audience.

At UMBC  Hrabowski has made an extra effort to form relationships and mentor the students at his college. He is a constant presence on campus, engaging anyone who crosses his path and taking a keen interest in the success of each student. Hrabowski is still a passionate learner. A recent article in SmartCEO followed the president as he tackled a new language, French, with steadfast determination. The reporter interviewed Landry Digeon, a UMBC doctoral student who has been teaching the president, “I have been impressed by the incredible amount of energy and hard work Dr. Hrabowski puts into understanding and learning the material. He once told me that he was determined to learn French ‘as if my life depended on it.’ Since then, he has proven that he meant every word of it. I believe his determination is what drives him and maintains his level of commitment and discipline.” Hrabowski lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Jackie; they met at Hampton Institute his freshman year when Freeman was only 15 years old. A Sun reporter interviewed Jackie for an article about the president, “He always had a strong sense of self-worth... he had always gotten the message, ‘You’re special’ and he had worked to live up to that.”  Jackie is a retired T. Rowe Price executive and they have one son named Eric.



TedxMidAtlantic, “We Must Change the Culture of Science and Teaching: Freeman Hrabowski at TEDxMidAtlantic” October, 2012

C-Span, “Oral Histories: Civil Rights History Project” July 14, 2011, Part 1

C-Span, “Oral Histories: Civil Rights History Project” July 14, 2011, Part 2


An excerpt from, “Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth From the Civl Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement”   by Freeman Hrabowski iii (Beacon Press, 2015), talking about his involvement with the Children’s Crusade

Matt Ward, “How Freeman Hrabowski transformed UMBC into an innovation hub and national education powerhouse”

 Richard Bryne, “From Aspiration to Achievement” UMBC Magazine, Fall 2012.

David Firestone, “Q. & A. With Free Hrabowski” New York Times, December 10, 2013

Wiley, Hall 3rd, “At UMBC, Meyerhoff program is a hit” Baltimore Sun, May 26, 1992, Pg. 3. 

Thomas W. Waldron, “Hrabowski chosen as new president of UMBC Educator, 42, is first black to head predominantly white college in area” Baltimore Sun, May 8, 1993, Pg. 1A.

David Folkenflik, “An immersion in campus life; ‘Number one pitchman’: UMBC president invests his own identity in his campus and particularly its students” Baltimore Sun, January 27, 1996, Pg. 1A.

Mike Bowler, “UMBC chief recalls ’63 bombing; Birmingham: Freeman A. Hrabowski, who appears in Spike Lee’s ‘Four Little Girls,’ looks back at an attack on a church that killed his schoolmate and mobilized his nation” Baltimore Sun, July 13, 1997, Pg. 2.B.

Mike Bowler, “UMBC president reflects on a hero and his dream; King would find cause now for despair, hope, he says” Baltimore Sun, January 15, 2003, Pg. 1B.

Michael Hill, “Living and learning in black and white; Success: Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of UMBC, grew up in Birmingham, Ala., where whites resisted integration with deadly consequences” Baltimore Sun, April 18, 2004, Pg. 1C.

Erica L. Green, “UMBC’s leader named one of 100 most influential” Baltimore Sun, April 18, 2012, Pg. A1.

Walker Childs, “Generations of students attest to the role UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski and his wife have played as one-on-one mentors” Baltimore Sun, September 2, 2012, Pg. A1.