Loh: A stead­fast, stern univer­sity pres­i­dent BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CAI CHUN­Y­ING in Wash­ing­ton charlenecai@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Wal­lace Loh, the 33rd pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Mary­land and one of only three Chi­nese-Amer­i­can pres­i­dents of a ma­jor US univer­sity, never thought his term would start with such a hard les­son.

On the third day af­ter ar­riv­ing at the cam­pus in the fall of 2010, Loh was rushed to a meet­ing with some ma­jor donors of the univer­sity. Full of good will, his re­marks were to the ef­fect that he was new to the cam­pus, had have never been a pres­i­dent and he would wel­come their help in mak­ing him a good pres­i­dent.

A man stood up, pointed his fin­ger at him and re­spect­fully but firmly said: “You are the new pres­i­dent. We ex­pect you to lead us,” as Loh, 68, re­called for China Daily in his sub­ur­ban Wash­ing­ton of­fice.

“I re­al­ized what a huge cul­tural mis­take I had made. I was think­ing in the Chi­nese way — the po­lite thing is to say, please help me and I want to learn from you,” said Loh, a Shang­hai na­tive who grew up in Peru in a tra­di­tional Chi­nese fam­ily be­fore com­ing to the US for col­lege.

Loh said even though his hum­ble style worked at the Univer­sity of Iowa, where he served as ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and provost prior to join­ing the Univer­sity of Mary­land, it didn’t work in Wash­ing­ton, a place where power and money of­ten dom­i­nate di­a­logues.

While Loh has since learned the role he needed to play — a force­ful com­man­der ra­di­at­ing con­fi­dence — the donors soon re­al­ized that their new pres­i­dent was by no means a leader beg­ging for help. His ac­tions in his first three years have in many ways rocked the 37,000-stu­dent univer­sity.

The most con­tro­ver­sial one was to move Mary­land’s foot­ball team from the At­lanta Coast Con­fer­ence (ACC) to the Big Ten. Mary­land had been with the ACC for more than 60 years and en­joyed play­ing against long-time ri­vals such as Duke and North Carolina, but the Big Ten of­fered more fi­nan­cial re­turn, which could help en­sure the sur­vival of the univer­sity’s many ath­letic pro­grams.

“It was a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion. For two weeks, I had po­lice pro­tec­tion around the clock,” said Loh, whose daugh­ter played soc­cer in col­lege. He be­lieves 70 per­cent of peo­ple now sup­port his de­ci­sion; even though 80 per­cent op­posed it in the be­gin­ning.

Brit Kir­wan, chan­cel­lor of the univer­sity and Loh’s boss, told the Bal­ti­more Sun, “be­lieve me, it took enor­mous courage… it took both courage and vi­sion.”

“That’s the role of lead­er­ship,” Loh said, call­ing his po­si­tion the “most po­lit­i­cal non-po­lit­i­cal job.”

“My phi­los­o­phy came from Wayne Gret­zky, prob­a­bly the great­est hockey player of all time. He said ‘ when I skate, I do not skate to where the puck is, I skate to where the puck is go­ing to be.’ So he is al­ways half a sec­ond ahead of some­body else.”

“Lead­er­ship is the same thing. You have to an­tic­i­pate where the is­sue is go­ing”, said Loh whose lead­er­ship in higher ed­u­ca­tion spans more than two decades start­ing with be­ing Dean of the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton’s Law School in 1990. He was elected Pres­i­dent of As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Law Schools in 1995.

Loh went on to be­come vice-chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Colorado. In 1997, when Gary Locke, the de­part­ing US am­bas­sador to China, be­came the gov­er­nor of Wash­ing­ton State, Loh joined his cab­i­net as di­rec­tor of pol­icy.

“I wanted to make sure that the first Chi­nese-Amer­i­can gov­er­nor would be suc­cess­ful,” Loh said. “When there were so few of us, if you are a gov­er­nor or a pres­i­dent, we are con­scious of the fact that we carry the weight of the ex­pec­ta­tions of our group. We do not think about that all the time, but it is in the back of our minds.”

Loh’s two years there helped to re­sult in the na­tion­al­lyrenowned Wash­ing­ton Prom­ise Schol­ar­ship, which granted stu­dents from low- and mid­dle-in­come fam­i­lies the ac­cess to col­leges. Loh said mak­ing ed­u­ca­tion more af­ford­able is still his pri­or­ity at Mary­land which has 37,000 stu­dents and is ranked among top 20 uni­ver­si­ties in the US.

“One of the rea­sons I al­ways chose to work for pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties is be­cause if you be­lieve ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant and it’s im­por­tant for every­body, you have to make it avail­able to peo­ple who are from poor in­come groups,” Loh said.

Loh came to the US alone at age 15 with only a cou­ple of hun­dred dol­lars in his pocket. He went on to earn a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree from Grin­nell Col­lege in Iowa, a Mas­ter’s from Cor­nell, a PhD in psy­chol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Michi­gan and a law de­gree from Yale in 1974.

With Chi­nese, Peru­vian and Amer­i­can cul­tures all part of his value sys­tem, Loh makes glob­al­iza­tion one of his pri­or­i­ties for the univer­sity. He has en­joyed Mary­land’s global con­nec­tion due to its be­ing the only top-rank­ing pub­lic univer­sity close to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. Loh said he re­ceived phone calls from US State Depart­ment all the time ask­ing to host vis­it­ing pres­i­dents from for­eign uni­ver­si­ties.

“You do not have that any­where else in the coun­try,” Loh said, “In that sense for the Univer­sity of Mary­land to be more in­ter­na­tion­ally con­nected, it is very easy”.

“But of all the con­nec­tions we have, the most ex­ten­sive are with China,” he said. Loh’s pre­de­ces­sor was de­voted to build­ing the univer­sity’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with China and made Mary­land a renowned name there.

The fame has drawn an


•1945 Born in Shang­hai •1961 Com­ing to the US •1965 BA in psy­chol­ogy, Grin­nell Col­lege •1967 MA in psy­chol­ogy, Cor­nell Univer­sity •1971 PhD in psy­chol­ogy, Univer­sity of Michi­gan •1974 JD, Yale Law School •1990-95 Dean, School of Law, Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton •1995-97 Vice-Chan­cel­lor for Aca­demic Af­fairs, Univer­sity of Colorado at Boul­der •1997-99 Di­rec­tor of Pol­icy, Of­fice of Gov­er­nor, State of Wash­ing­ton •1999-2008 Dean, Col­lege of Arts & Sciences, Seat­tle Univer­sity, •2008-10 Ex­ec­u­tive Vice-Pres­i­dent and Provost, Univer­sity of Iowa •2010-present Pres­i­dent, Univer­sity of Mary­land ever-grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese stu­dents to the cam­pus. Ac­cord­ing to Loh, there are more than 800 un­der­grad­u­ates alone from China plus a large body of grad­u­ate stu­dents. Mary­land sends about 80 Amer­i­can stu­dents each year to study in China.

Mary­land has an ex­ten­sive re­la­tion­ship with half a dozen top Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties. The first Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute in the US is there. The univer­sity also has over the past 10 years trained a cou­ple of thou­sand Chi­nese gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion.


Wal­lace Loh, pres­i­dent of Univer­sity of Mary­land, talks about a gift he re­ceived dur­ing his visit to the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute head­quar­ters in Bei­jing last year.

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