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Can New UMd Prez Help Close Varsity-Resident Rift?

Wallace D. Loh

Wallace D. Loh

The search is finally over – the University of Maryland has found a new president.

Dr. Wallace (Wally) Loh will replace Mr. Mote, who served as the UMd president for the past 12 years and will retire at the end of this month. UMd spent nearly 6 months in its search for Mr. Mote’s replacement. 400 candidates applied for the job, out of which 18 were interviewed. Dr. Loh came out to be lucky guy at the end.

So an appointment such as this after a lengthy and tough search must be a good news for our university town, right?

Perhaps so. I can feel a sense of optimism surrounding Mr. Loh’s appointment among City residents. Prior to coming to College Park, Mr. Loh served as the provost of Iowa University, where he is said to be very close to city residents there. That sounds like a good resume to lead a varsity that has deep rooted distrust among its neighbors towards it.

This also signals that in his new residence in College Park, Mr. Loh has a lot of heavy liftings to do. For a number of years, the University has been regarded by many of its neighbors as ‘one sided’, ‘unconcerned’ and even ‘arrogant’. Part of the reason, as many residents say, lies in the fact that the outgoing president Mr. Mote wasn’t quite ‘caring’ about what the residents have to say in the university affairs that also affect the native neighborhoods. Whatever the reasons are, simply put, many long time residents I’ve talked to, don’t trust UMd as a good neighbor.

Take for example the vandalism and destruction that the City’s downtown witnesses almost every year following major games. To many residents, behaviors such as these give our city black eyes to outsiders.

Then there are also issues of economic impact on the city’s taxpayers who think they often pay too much for UMd’s expansions. The UMd does pay the in Lieu of tax for such accusations, but residents think the city lose important tax base, which they think not as attractive as what could have been paid by commercial entities. The recent takeover of the old Washington Post plant just south of Greenbelt Rd is an example, residents argue.

The residents also have grievances on the matters of transportation and redevelopment of Rt 1 and its impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The purple line is another issue where residents think the UMd should take more residents’ input.

Dr. Loh’s international background can be good news for our city which is seeing changes in its ethnic compositions. Mr. Loh was born in China, grew up in Peru for some time before he migrated to the US with $200 before he fulfilled his American dream, as he said in an interview.

Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Loh has promised to listen more in the first days of his tenure. Does it mean we’ll get to see an UMd president in our neighborhood association meetings for the first time?

Thankfully, the City is doing its part in closing the rift. For the first time, it’s going to organize a Welcome back student day at the City Hall’s parking lot.  The upcoming College park Day will be another opportunity for bridging the gap between the city and the Varsity. I can already see a number of groups within the university are taking part in this event.

The growth and the survival of the university and the city are very much intertwined. And for that very reason, Mr. Loh has an unique opportunity to address these concerns and help build bridges between the two.

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