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USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan to Step Down

May 13, 2014

Anne Moultrie 301-445-2722

William E. KirwanADELPHI, Md. - William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland (USM) since August 2002, today announced that he will step down from his leadership position after a career spanning more than 50 years in public higher education. At the request of the USM Board of Regents, Kirwan will remain as chancellor until the board conducts a national search and chooses his successor.

"I am completing my 12th year as chancellor and my 50th year in higher education, and I have decided that this is the right time to announce my intention to step down," Kirwan said. "It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to lead the state of Maryland's public higher education system. Thanks to the excellent board members and outstanding USM administrators, faculty, staff and students with whom I have had the privilege to work, we have accomplished a great deal. I am enormously proud of our collective efforts, and I believe the system is poised to continue on its paths of academic excellence, inclusion, and innovation that have become its hallmark."

"It is difficult to envision the University System of Maryland without Brit Kirwan at the helm," said James L. Shea, chair of the USM Board of Regents. "Under his exceptional leadership, USM has established itself as a public higher education system focused on student success, and on service to the state, the nation, and beyond. We are very fortunate to have had Brit as the system's chancellor. He will be sorely missed, but he has built a strong system that will continue to flourish."

Kirwan has had a long and distinguished career in higher education. He has served as president of two Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions-University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), (1988-98) and The Ohio State University (1998-2002). Earlier, he served as vice president of academic affairs and chair of the Department of Mathematics at UMCP.

Guided by his long-held core belief that higher education plays a critical role in creating a more just and inclusive society, Kirwan has impacted the higher education landscape considerably. Common threads running through his career include his unwavering commitment to excellence and to increasing underrepresented minorities' access to higher education.

Among the many initiatives he has championed is Closing the Achievement Gap. USM launched this initiative in 2007 to address the gap in college participation, retention, and graduation rates between low-income students, first-generation college students, and underrepresented minorities on one hand, and the general student population on the other. USM institutions are making notable progress in this area, with gaps reduced or eliminated at some campuses.

Thanks to programs he championed as president of UMCP, that institution is one of the most diverse public research universities in the United States. And as president of Ohio State, Kirwan made diversity a centerpiece of the university's Academic Plan. When he left Ohio State in 2002, the university added his name to its interdisciplinary research institute dedicated to understanding racial and ethnic disparities worldwide, now known as the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

USM's productive working relationship with Maryland's elected officials is another testament to Kirwan's leadership. This true partnership has yielded a strategic alignment of USM and state priorities related to higher education affordability, student success, academic and research excellence, higher education's role in economic and workforce development, and responsible stewardship of resources.

For example, working together, USM and the State of Maryland have made tuition affordability a major factor in the state's national reputation as an education leader. As a result, the average tuition for undergraduate in-state students at USM institutions, once the nation's sixth highest, now ranks 26th.  And Kirwan has led USM institutions to increase need-based financial aid awarded to students, which has jumped nearly 140 percent systemwide since FY 2005.

"Brit has been an invaluable and critical partner in our efforts to strengthen and grow our middle class by expanding access to high-quality higher education in Maryland," said Governor Martin O'Malley. "Here in Maryland, we're incredibly grateful to him for his leadership in strategically aligning course offerings to spur economic development and help close our State's 'skills gap'; his work to improve important and essential transitions for community college students to four-year institutions; and his efforts to help my Administration hold down the cost of college to the lowest levels in the nation."

Under Kirwan's leadership and the Board of Regents chaired by Clifford Kendall at the time, USM in 2003-04 launched its Effectiveness and Efficiency (E&E) Initiative to optimize USM resources and save money during a time of burgeoning enrollment, diminishing state support, and increasing costs. A systematic reengineering of USM's administrative and academic functions, E&E has become a part of the system's culture, impacting everything it does. To date, E&E has yielded more than $460 million in direct savings through joint procurement, energy conservation and more efficient use of space and buildings, improvements in business processes, and other actions.

Other marks of Kirwan's leadership success include: 

  • USM's strong partnerships with Maryland's community colleges to facilitate smooth transfer of students to USM universities. The number of students transferring from the state's community colleges to USM universities is at an all-time high.
  • More USM resources focused more strategically to drive the state's economic development.
  • Stronger programs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines, both in terms of producing more graduates prepared to take positions in these fields and in terms of educating the next generation of teachers in the STEM areas for K-12 education.
  • University of Maryland: MPowering the State, a structured collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the University of Maryland, College Park launched in 2012. The collaboration is leveraging resources to serve students better, increase interaction between faculty members and researchers, and boost research, technology transfer, and commercialization.
  • Completion of USM's six-year federated campaign (2006-2012) that raised $2.1 billion to support scholarships, professorships, buildings, and more.
  • Effective partnerships with educational systems in the K-12 sector.
  • Way2GoMaryland, USM's information campaign launched in 2008 to encourage more students to begin preparing for college early.
  • Advancement of USM regional higher education centers, which expand access to higher education opportunities, many aligned with regional workforce needs.
  • Leadership in sustainability efforts with 52 facilities constructed and/or planned as LEED-certified "Silver" or higher.

"Dr. Kirwan has been a visionary leader at the University System of Maryland, making a tremendous impact on education in our own state and across the nation," said U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). "He understands how education is connected to jobs and the larger economy. His passion and unique ability have been making sure Maryland has the right workforce, whether it's in cyber-tech, bio-tech, or space-tech, for the times we live in."

"Chancellor Kirwan has been that magic combination of great intellect, long vision, and extraordinary people skills," said Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (Md.-5).  "He led the University of Maryland, College Park to become one of the country's great academic institutions. In the process, he became one of America's most respected leaders and voices.  I know all Marylanders join me in thanking Brit and his wife Patty, who has been such an important partner in his and our success."

On the national level, Kirwan's leadership has helped to position USM as a model public higher education system in several areas, including enhanced stewardship of resources (especially related to the E&E Initiative) and academic transformation. With the launch of its Course Redesign Initiative in 2006, USM became the nation's first university system to redesign entire courses, supported by the innovative use of technology. To further facilitate academic transformation and excellence, the USM Board of Regents in 2012 approved the establishment of the Center for Innovation and Excellence in Learning and Teaching to develop, apply, and evaluate more ways to deliver high-quality courses optimizing technology and other resources systemwide.

In addition, Kirwan serves on several national boards, including the Business-Higher Education Forum. He chairs the National Research Council Board on Higher Education and Workforce, and co-chairs the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the U.S. Senate Education Committee Task Force on Government Regulation of Higher Education.

Statewide, Kirwan serves on the boards of several organizations, including the Greater Baltimore Committee, Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education. He also serves on the Governor's P-20 Leadership Council.

Among Kirwan's honors are the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership (2010) and the Carnegie Corporation Leadership Award (2009), two of higher education's most prestigious awards.

"Brit Kirwan is among those rare leaders who have made a profound impact on American higher education," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. "He has led some of our nation's most respected academic institutions and mentored and influenced several generations of college and university presidents. Courageous and compassionate, Brit has embraced the toughest and most important issues of our time-cost, accountability, diversity, athletics-and succeeded in forging consensus and change. We are better as an industry-and I, personally as a leader-because of his great work."

"Brit Kirwan's leadership has helped reshape the landscape of public higher education and will have a lasting impact on Maryland, Ohio, and the whole country," said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. "His drive and focus to expand access to public higher education in order to serve more underrepresented students has inspired others to join him in tackling the toughest challenges and opportunities facing our colleges and universities."

Kirwan received his doctoral and master's degrees from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and his bachelor's degree from the University of Kentucky, all in mathematics.

"While I will be stepping down as chancellor," Kirwan said, "I plan to continue to devote a major portion of my time and energies to promoting causes that mean so much to me, including programs focused on ensuring more low-income students have a chance to complete a college degree and on strategies using technology to find lower-cost means of delivering high quality higher education."

USM Board Chair Shea within the next several weeks plans to appoint a committee to conduct an extensive national search for USM's fourth chancellor. The committee will comprise representatives from the system's many constituencies.   

The University System of Maryland comprises 12 institutions-Bowie State University; Coppin State University; Frostburg State University; Salisbury University; Towson University; University of Baltimore; University of Maryland, Baltimore; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland Eastern Shore; University of Maryland University College; and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies. USM also includes two regional centers-Universities at Shady Grove and University System of Maryland at Hagerstown-at which USM universities offer upper-division (undergraduate junior- and senior-levels) and graduate courses.

Student enrollment systemwide exceeds 153,000. In FY 2013, USM and its institutions competed successfully for nearly $1.2 billion in external grants and contracts. USM institutions and programs are among the country's best in quality and value according to several national rankings.