Big Fish Q&A with UB President Robert Bogomolny
University of Baltimore President Robert Bogomolny (pronounced bow-go-mole-knee) isn’t your stereotypical chief university officer, with patches on the elbows of his blazer and a past life performed most loudly in chalk-dusty seminar classrooms. Before accepting the job in August of 2002, Bogomolny served as corporate senior VP and general counsel at the pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle and Company (think Ambien, Metamucil, Nutrasweet), and before that as professor of law and dean of the Cleveland Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University from 1977 to 1987. Born in Cleveland in 1938, Bogomolny’s business and academic experience is rich and varied; he is widely credited with amping UB’s enrollment and enabling the school’s urban campus to expand and beautify annually, and credited, as well, with knowing how to dig in and “grow” the school based largely upon his far-reaching resume.
“Given our growth of the past decade — since [fiscal year] 01, UB has the second highest growth rate in the University System of Maryland, only 0.7 percent off the highest rate — we can’t keep saying that UB is the best kept secret in Maryland,” Bogomolny noted during his fall 2012 convocation address.
But it’s not simply Bogomolny’s diverse resume — or his diehard UB-boosting savvy — that makes me tag him as atypical in the sometimes uptight academic environment. As a new lecturer in creative writing in UB’s School of Communication Design this fall, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few functions over which Mr. Bogomolny has presided. When I first met him, he chirped straightaway, “Call me Bob,” knowing that would be simpler for me than tangling with Bogomolny on the spot. When he gives a formal speech, he tosses in the random Monty Python or John Lennon pop-cultural reference, cuing the room to relax, and after his speech is through, he’s downright chatty. The opposite of stuffy or superior, “Bob” seems to want to be in every room in which I’ve encountered him at UB. Based upon early evidence, I’d wager he loves his school almost as much as he cares about its impressive financials.
I asked Mr. Bogomolny what he’s reading right now, which moment of the day he likes best, and what else he’d like to achieve at UB before he’s on to the next shape-shifting realm.
Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.
Borrowing from Monty Python: Always look on the bright side of life. Whatever challenges I’ve faced, I have always felt fortunate to be able to learn — and hopefully grow — from my experiences.
When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?
There’s been no single point in time when I defined my goals, because I believe that one’s goals change with life circumstances, age and hopefully expanding perspective. For me, connecting with people, making progress in whatever I’m doing and being involved in education in the larger sense — as a learner and a supporter — are important at this point in my life.
What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?
Passion about what you do is often more important than intelligence.
No matter how talented, no one person can accomplish major tasks alone; it takes a true team effort to make an impact.
No matter how hard I worked at it, I would never set a world record in the 100-yard dash.
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?
Keep doing as many different things in your career as you can, as long as you continue to grow through each experience.
What is the best moment of the day?
Breakfast and dinner with my wife.
What is on your bedside table?
Because reading is essential to my life, there’s always a book there. Currently, it’s Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and a collection of Pablo Neruda’s poetry.
What is your favorite local charity?
The University of Baltimore — most people don’t realize that our public universities receive only a portion of their funding from the state; in UB’s case, less than 30 percent — and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
You taught law at Southern Methodist University and served as a law professor/dean at Cleveland State University in the 1970s and 1980s. Please cite the single most distinguishing characteristic about incoming law school students back then and those now entering the University of Baltimore.
I’m encouraged to see the same distinguishing characteristic in both student populations: a desire to study law as a means to do something of value in our society. That’s always been a hallmark of the University of Baltimore, and I hope that never changes.
You are praised for shaping UB into an urban-school success story — what is the most important evolution that has occurred since you became president, and what are two important UB goals for the next five years?
While I’m proud of the buildings we’ve built and the changes we’ve made, it’s always about people: adding new talent to UB’s dedicated faculty and staff is our most important and long-lasting accomplishment. As higher education evolves at ever-increasing rates, it’s particularly important to have a leadership team that can embrace risk and manage change.
In the coming five years, it’s imperative that a UB education remains accessible in terms of cost and in keeping the transformational opportunity of a college degree available to all. We also have to keep pace with different learning styles and be open to new ways of delivering education.