Former University System of Maryland Chancellor William "Brit" Kirwan, who has spent more than 50 years as an educator and academic reform advocate, will be honored this year in The Baltimore Sun's Maryland Business and Civic Hall of Fame.
The 10 members of this year's class, which were announced Sunday, have made "extraordinary contributions to the state in business, government, philanthropy and the arts," according to The Sun. Among the inductees are former Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, former Baltimore Museum of Art Director Doreen Bolger and the Baltimore City Bar Association's first African-American president, George L. Russell Jr.
"I'm very honored and touched by this award, but I fully recognize that this recognition is because of the phenomenal work of a lot of people, and I just happened to be the one that — because I served as chancellor — got singled out," Kirwan said. "But it was really a collective effort that made this possible."
Kirwan, 78, was the system's chancellor from August 2002 through June 2015. Before that, he spent more than 30 years at the University of Maryland as a tenured math professor, provost and this university's president. He also served as Ohio State University's president from 1998-2002.
The USM Board of Regents honored Kirwan for his dedication to this university by renaming the math building after him in October 2015.
Staying true to his roots in mathematics, Kirwan serves as the executive director of an initiative called "Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics" to reform how math is taught at the collegiate level, he said. He also works closely with University President Wallace Loh and the Board of Trustees as co-chair for this university's capital campaign.
"What has made me so energized in education issues and educational opportunities in the recent decades is the power of education to transform lives," Kirwan said. "That's what keeps my engines running."
Kirwan helped develop the system's Course Redesign Initiative, which encouraged implementing innovative technology to redesign entire courses, in 2006. A year later, Kirwan helped launch the system's closing the achievement gap initiative in 2007, which focuses on gaps in college retention and graduation rates among minorities, first-generation and low-income students compared to the general student population.
"There's a moral obligation on the part of our country to address this issue," Kirwan said. "We can't be the land of opportunity, which we like to cite ourselves as, without greater possibilities for economically disadvantaged young people to through and succeed in college."
Enrollment for the 12 system institutions climbed 24 percent during Kirwan's tenure as chancellor. The number of bachelor's degrees awarded each year increased by 36 percent, totaling more than 23,000.
Kirwan encouraged USM schools to increase student need-based financial aid, which has more than doubled since fiscal 2005, according to UMD Right Now.
MJ Bishop, director of the system's William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation — named in the chancellor emeritus' honor in 2015 — said in an email Kirwan's vision was one of the reasons she was drawn to USM.
"When one considers that Dr. Kirwan began his career in 1964 on the University of Maryland mathematics faculty, it is striking how he continued to be so forward-thinking in his approach to teaching and what today's students need to succeed in the classroom," Bishop wrote. "As chancellor, he set the tone for embracing the [system's] desire to be at the forefront of transforming the academic model."
Since retiring as system chancellor, Kirwan was appointed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and other General Assembly leaders in 2016 to lead the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. The commission is tasked with creating a blueprint for developing a K-12 educational system in Maryland at the level of the highest-ranking nations and states, Kirwan said.
"He's a great role model for anyone who is looking for someone with the background, the knowledge and the experience to comment on education," said Maryland Senate President Mike Miller. "Public education K-12 or higher education could not have a better advocate. And when Brit Kirwan speaks, everyone should listen."
The Sun's 2016 Hall of Fame class honored 12 people who dedicated their careers to improving this state, according to its website. The list included Nancy Grasmick, this state's first female superintendent of schools, and Robert Meyerhoff, renowned philanthropist and art collector, who founded the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program for African-Americans at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Members of the public could nominate individuals to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before a committee of community leaders, as well as The Sun's editorial board, reviewed the selections. All of the 2017 inductees will be profiled in The Sun and honored at an event in June.