Darryll J. Pines may be one of the few people who understands the University of Maryland.
Besides his 25 years teaching and dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering, his two children are also “true Terps” who graduated from the university.
But Pines began his new role last week as the university’s first Black president and 34th overall. He has two main priorities for the university — excellence “in everything that we do” and create a more inclusive and multicultural community.
“These two priorities go hand in hand,” he said. “That’s what I intend to do at this university.”
Another African American educator also began a new role last week in leading a university in the D.C. area. Not only will Gregory Washington serve as president at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, but he also served as a dean of the engineering school at the University of California Irvine.
Back in Maryland, Pines will take over for former President Wallace Loh, who worked at the university for nearly 10 years.
The state’s flagship public institution has won at least four national championships in field hockey and lacrosse the past 10 years, dedicated a Frederick Douglass statue on the campus, and received a $31 million gift from alumnus Brendan Iribe to fund scholarships and building a new computer science building.
Under Pines’ leadership as dean of the engineering school, female student admittance from the freshmen class increased from 22 percent in 2010 to 33 percent in fall 2019.
But the school has encountered recent racial incidents and tragedies dating back to 2015 when a student resigned from Kappa Sigma fraternity after an email from the year prior contained racism and sexually explicit language about Black, Asian and Indian women.
In 2017, students and faculty members found white supremacist fliers on the campus. That same year, 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III was killed on the campus while visiting friends, just days before he was to graduate from nearby Bowie State University.
The suspect, Sean Urbanski, a white University of Maryland student, stabbed Collins due to him being Black. A jury found Urbanski guilty of first-degree murder, but a formal sentencing was postponed because courts are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2018, football player Jordan McNair, 19, died due to heat exhaustion after collapsing during a team practice. A scathing report showed coaches and staff failed to protect McNair and certain protocols weren’t followed.
The school’s newspaper, The Diamondback, reported last month a doctoral student started a petition for the school to support its African American Studies Department with more funding and require undergraduate students to take an introductory level course.
Although those incidents occurred under Loh’s presidency, Pines will look to improve the school during the ongoing pandemic as students are scheduled to return to the College Park campus for the fall semester.
Pines, who spoke with members of the media on his second day at the helm on Thursday, July 2, explained his vision on academic excellence, in-person attendance for athletics and bringing Black students back to a campus that resides in Prince George’s County, where 62 percent of the residents are Black. Here are portions of his responses:
Strategy to attract more Black students to the campus:
We might have the most significantly diverse class in the last decade at this institution. One of my priorities will be to increase the number of diverse students that come to the University of Maryland. We are the number-one graduating [bachelor of science and bachelor of arts] degrees of African Americans in the United States of any flagship or public land grant institution. I’m committed to advancing faculty and staff diversity. It will also be a focus of my presidency. I’m going to use some of the same methods that we used in engineering and apply them uniformly across the campus. These include partnerships with local high schools as well as partnerships with some of our two-year institutions in the state. That has worked very well to create diversity at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Significance of becoming first Black president:
It’s an honor to be the 34th president at the University of Maryland. It’s also an honor to be the first African American president of the university. I understand the symbolism that it represents to the African American community and to the community at large here at the University of Maryland, and what it represents in these kinds of uncertainty and social injustice. I’m going to focus on excellence in everything we do and on creating an inclusive and equitable community that’s multicultural. I believe the university has incredible diversity and just an incredible place to be when you come on campus. We embrace that with our values, our traditions. It’s part of our culture and it’s a measure of our excellence. I intend to enhance that going forward.
When to cancel fall classes if coronavirus cases spike:
We’ve been first working with the Maryland Department of Health, which has been giving us guidance on how we should evaluate the situation. Then we’ve been working with the local county department of health, which also gives us guidance about what we can do, what [officials] would like to see in terms of what’s been going on in our campus. Their guidance and constant evaluation will really be the trigger upon which we will pivot and go fully online, if there’s a series of indicators that suggest our population will be at risk. The hope is that the measures we are putting within the city, within the county and within the university, will allow our community to be healthy and safe and continue our process of education and research at the University of Maryland.