Who is Dan Mote?

“Dan cut to the meat and found out what needed to be done, and if that meant ruffling up some feathers, that would be done, as well,” Lieu said. “He has definite feelings on how things should be done. Dan would pick a path and stick with it until it gets done. ~ former Mote assistant at UC-Berkeley

A virtual unknown on the east coast at the time, after 31 years at the University of California at Berkeley Dan Mote was asked to assume the presidency of Maryland’s flagship university in 1998. He served the university and the state phenomenally well in the proceeding 12 years. Yesterday he announced his retirement.

In 1997, UMD research dollars totaled about $155 million. Last year, thanks in large part to Mote’s leadership and fund-raising prowess, that number was $518 million. In 1998 the university ranked No. 30 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings among public institutions. Despite it’s proximity to Washington, at the time UMD held basically no national or international academic esteem. Since then UMD’s student applicant pool has increased by 78% and six-year graduation rates are at an all-time high. Last year UMD ranked No. 18 nationally and is now considered one of the world’s premiere research institutions.

Mote also oversaw a building boom that added the Comcast Center, the 130-acre M-Square research park, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, bioscience and engineering buildings and several other large academic halls that brought the campus into the 21st century. In 2000,  he appointed a steering committee to develop a modern master plan for the sprawling College Park campus which has proven extremely effective in encouraging the rational growth of campus. Later, in 2007, he signed the far-reaching Presidents’ Climate Commitment which led the way to an institutional plan for climate neutrality.

By many accounts, Dr. Mote’s take no prisoners leadership style has put UMD on the map and allowed the university to reach it’s full potential as an economic engine for the state. But all this success is tempered with plenty of failings. That same leadership style that brought the university out of obscurity oftentimes translated to intransigence when it came to consensus building and planning the built environment. As former Graduate Student Government President Laura Moore pointed out in yesterday’s Diamondback, Mote’s actions throughout the years have only deepened the surrounding community’s mistrust of the University:

“I think those relationships have become so bitter you almost have to have a person come in and make things better,” she said. “Neither side trusts the other, each blames the other for the bad things that have gone on in the history of the relationship. … I hope with a new person we can have a fresh start.”

When it comes to planning, gut instincts and shooting from the hip rarely lead to favorable planning outcomes. More often than not Mote’s stubbornness resulted in the further deterioration of the surrounding community. Rather than embracing the university’s shared destiny with College Park, Mote ran from it. He sought to build a bubble around the campus, alienated local leaders and consistently pursued the university’s narrow interest instead of its shared future with College Park.

Mote fought tirelessly for a four-lane, 1.5-mile “connector road” between campus and I-95 that will surely never be realized. Mote foolishly wrote a  letter to Maryland DOT in 2006 supporting Route 1 reconstruction only where it crosses University property despite the fact that much of university-oriented private development is taking place outside this area. He and his top administrators forged ahead with plans for East Campus with surprisingly little political adroitness and even less public participation. Perhaps Dr. Mote’s single greatest failure was his unwavering and completely illogical commitment to keeping the Purple Line off Campus Drive.

We can only hope that Dr. Mote’s replacement carries on his great legacy of fund-raising, capacity-building, and cheer-leading…. and leaves planning to the planners.

4 thoughts on “Who is Dan Mote?”

  1. David tells it like it is. Lets hope the next president will consider ALL of College Park and not just the brick buildings in the center.

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