CORRECTION: Due to reporting and editing errors, an earlier version of this article indicated that the university's arts and humanities programs ranked 82nd in US News & World Report. That ranking specifically referred to the university's fine arts graduate programs. This article has been updated to reflect this correction.
If Wallace Loh is good at anything, he says, it’s strategic opportunism.
The university president had grand plans when he first arrived in November 2010. He wanted to greatly improve and emphasize four areas: academics, athletics, arts and ambience.
Now nearly three years into his presidency, Loh has laid the groundwork for his legacy. If all goes according to plan, the University of Maryland that Loh one day leaves will be nearly unrecognizable from the one he stepped into.
The university is set to join the Big Ten on July 1 and has already joined the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the conference’s academic consortium. A potential partnership with the Corcoran Gallery of Art — Washington’s oldest private art museum, which houses more than 17,000 pieces — and its college is in the works.
A developer is moving along with a plan to revitalize the city surrounding the campus by bringing a hotel and conference center, restaurants, retail and more. And administrators are continuing to build upon a strategic alliance with the University of Maryland, Baltimore, in the hopes of boosting both schools’ rankings and becoming an academic leader with joint programs and colleges.
Loh talked about big ideas to transform the university in his first speech to the University Senate 11 days after he arrived on the campus, but he did not offer any detail or a step-by-step plan.
It’s because he didn’t have one, he said. But Loh knew the framework that would guide his presidency, and he has looked for — and hoped for — opportunities to help him execute his vision.
“I like to do really big, transformative things,” Loh said. “Unless you have in your mind the framework … you won’t even recognize opportunities.”
So far, those opportunities have come in the form of partnerships. And it’s no longer simply talk.
MPower the State, the strategic alliance with the University of Maryland, Baltimore, continues to bring new joint ventures and programs.
This year, officials look to partner with top pharmaceutical companies to shape the university into a leader in biotechnology and help cure diseases.
Additionally, CIC membership will enable shared resources and programs between this university and member institutions.
“By next year, we’ll have a lot more opportunities available,” Provost Mary Ann Rankin said. “People don’t mind working hard or working extra when they see that exciting new things can happen.”
The university will start earning millions more in TV revenue next year as part of the revenue-sharing Big Ten athletic conference. A commission has laid out how to better support each student-athlete, and the university is looking at concepts for an indoor practice facility.
“We have to feel the responsibility of bringing the best of what the Big Ten has to offer,” said Brad Traviolia, the conference’s deputy commissioner. “We also have to bring the best of what Maryland … has to offer to the Midwest because folks out here are asking the question, ‘What’s in it for us? How is this a better Big Ten?’”
If both parties decide to move ahead, the Corcoran will give the university $2 billion worth of art, and its college will offer new humanities programs. For a university whose fine arts programs rank 82nd — according to US News & World Report — a partnership with one of the world’s leading art institutions could help propel these programs forward.
“It could be very interesting for our students to develop collaborative partnerships with the students at the Corcoran and work on common projects that would benefit the citizens of Maryland,” said David Cronrath, architecture school dean, who is leading the study exploring the partnership.
Omar Blaik, the founder and CEO of U3 Ventures, a multidisciplinary firm with expertise in college town development, is leading a “parcel-by-parcel” plan to revitalize College Park. It’s a dramatic shift from previous East Campus plans, which would have brought retail, housing, upscale restaurants and other amenities to a single 38-acre plot, that were in the works for more than a dozen years but never gained much traction.
“The university was not really talking to the community in past years,” Blaik said. “There is going to be a very different College Park in a few years.”
This is no longer just a laundry list of ideas. There are partners, stakeholders and an entire community waiting to see if Loh delivers on his word and maintains momentum on all of these initiatives.
“You’ve got four major balls in the air. Juggling means you have to prod, encourage, push and fight on four fronts,” Loh said. “I can summarize it in 30 seconds. But it could all fall apart.”