University Presidents Darryll Pines & Anthony Jenkins discuss challenges faced during pandemic and plans for the future

Darryll J. Pines and Anthony Jenkins

On October 7, 2020, the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) hosted a conversation with Dr. Darryll Pines, President of the University of Maryland College Park, and Dr. Anthony Jenkins, President of Coppin State University. The speakers discussed their plans for the future and what’s next for these two Maryland higher education institutions.

The conversation started with a question from moderator Don Fry, GBC President and CEO, about how coronavirus has impacted their work as university presidents.

Pines said, “We are in a very unprecedented time in the history of humankind as it relates to two pandemics, one caused by the virus, but also … the social unrest in our country was a plurality of another pandemic that we are facing in society … specifically in respect to our campuses.”

Pines noted that University of Maryland, College Park has conducted more than 35,000 tests of students to date. They also created quarantine and isolation spaces on campus.

“The virus is going to be with us. …We all need to learn how to be safe with it and emphasize the safety and health and well-being of all of our community citizens, but still try to have some level of in-person execution of instruction.”

Jenkins said as a university president, “You get to converse with a great group of colleagues. You take that and couple that with strong leadership — Chancellor [Jay] Perman — you are able to navigate some difficult challenges and the pandemic was just one of them.”

Jenkins said Coppin State University examined which classes could still be taught face-to-face. Coppin ended up teaching approximately 90% of its classes online last semester.

“This pandemic is having a profound impact on those students who were Pell [Grant] eligible,” Jenkins said. “This pandemic is putting higher education in a position where we could essentially lose a generation of diverse, talented and intellectual strength that our city, our state, our nation and our world needs. We have to come together and find ways to ensure that we can help these young people remain in college and finish.”

When Pines was asked about some of the highlights of his work at UMD, he said, “When I started on July 1, I said, ‘I’m going to emphasize the excellence in everything we do.’ …Many of our programs are excellent. I hope to rise them to the next level of prominence.”

On what attracted him to Coppin, Jenkins said, “It was simple. It’s an incredible university in an incredible city. I have always looked at Coppin as a great opportunity to do great things. …Coppin has so many jewels to it. One of the missing ingredients has been stability at the leadership level. That is what I’m looking to bring to it.”

Both university presidents discussed how higher education is going to be permanently changed by the pandemic.

“Even before these two crises — pandemic and social unrest — higher education had a lot of stressors that were affecting the dynamics of our operation. …There were existing stressors and the pandemic has only accelerated change,” Pines said.

“For the first time, faculty had to move to a virtual learning environment and adapt the skills to do that in a very short time. The innovation that we’re seeing in our coursework is literally revolutionary. We’re innovative and we’ve learned a lot,” added Pines.

“This pandemic has really forced higher learning — which has traditionally moved at the pace of a dinosaur — to be more agile. University presidents today are not university presidents 30 years ago. We are now being asked to do more. We now have a far greater hand in every aspect of the institution,” Jenkins said. “University presidents can no longer sit in an ivory tower.”

Pines and Jenkins also emphasized the importance of working relationships and partnerships with the community and business organizations.

“We need to remind everyone that we are economic engines for the state. We’re a large employer. …More importantly, the work we do in research and education translates to practice,” Pines said.

Jenkins said universities need to promote higher education as the cornerstone of economic foundation for the State of Maryland. “We need to find ways that we can train faster and more thoroughly so that our citizens are better prepared from an economic and workforce standpoint,” he said.

He said we should ask where our graduates are going. “At Coppin, the majority of our graduates stay in Maryland. …The graduates we produce help drive the economy in the state. We need to do a better job of promoting that.”

In reiterating the dual pandemics of 2020 — coronavirus and social unrest — Pines noted that one of his goals was to create a more inclusive environment. More broadly, he noted, “My job and my goal will be to raise our research enterprise to a whole other level of excellence. …We’re going to have strategic partnerships with a lot of major Baltimore firms but also firms across the United States.”

While discussing what types of programs or initiatives, the presidents would like to bring to their institutions, Jenkins said, “First and foremost the discussion we’re having at Coppin now is how do we keep our liberal arts foundation and pivot for the 21st Century.”

Jenkins noted that Coppin is expanding such offerings as data analytics and cyber security.

Pines said, UMD is “in a continuing evolution of skills. We’ve got to be lockstep with industry.”

On developing partnerships with regional businesses and keeping graduates in Maryland, Pines said, “We want our students to be hired long-term at firms in the Greater Baltimore area.”

Jenkins added, “We have to be intertwined to the very fabric of what’s going on with our own community. I don’t care how great technology becomes, in business it will never supplant human interaction.”

He noted that a nurturing environment is integral to a student’s success and stressed that he doesn’t want to become too reliant on technology. “When we talk about business, when we talk about industry, we’re going to consistently see those soft skills be of great value,” Jenkins said.

When asked about some future plans, Pines said, “We need to be more civic-minded. The Black Lives Matter movement was one of the largest social movements in the history of the world and that means that we can now educate students on how to go about 1st Amendment rights, how to be an activist. …Only real change happens through civic-minded individuals who go and affect true policy.”

Jenkins noted that he would like to see more partnerships with Coppin. “We are willing to partner with any and everybody who is committed to developing pathways to access for a brighter future and a better tomorrow,” he said. “I want people to start better appreciating what Coppin has to offer.”

Two things Jenkins never wants to hear people say about Coppin again: “It’s the best kept secret” and “It’s a diamond in the rough.”

Don Fry, Pres. Pines, Pres. JenkinsSpeaking to his colleague, Jenkins closed with: “The flagship institution is designed — and should be — the catalyst for lifting the entire system. College Park is doing that. Keep up the great work. We are all in this together.”

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