John W. Dorsey, chancellor and professor in U-Md. system, dies at 78

August 7, 2014

John W. Dorsey, a longtime University of Maryland economics professor and administrator who also served as chancellor of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, died July 28 at his home in Laurel, Md. He was 78.

The cause was respiratory failure, said a son-in-law, Tim Small.

Dr. Dorsey joined the economics faculty at the University of Maryland’s flagship campus in College Park in 1963. Two years later, he took a leave of absence to serve as a staff economist on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Dr. Dorsey returned to College Park in 1966, where he served as director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research for four years. He was vice chancellor of administrative affairs from 1970 to 1977 and acting chancellor of the College Park campus from 1974 to 1975.

In 1977, Dr. Dorsey was named UMBC’s third chancellor, the equivalent to president today. During his tenure at the university system’s newest campus at the time, enrollment went from 5,200 to 8,150 students; average SAT scores of incoming students increased nearly 100 points; and the faculty grew to 400. UMBC’s annual budget expanded from $18.6 million to $46.2 million.


John W. Dorsey, a longtime University of Maryland professor and administrator, served as chancellor of the University of Maryland Baltimore County from 1977 to 1985. (Baltimore Sun)

“Many believe that he saved UMBC from several alternative fates, from absorption to closure, and set it onto the sound course that leads to today,” said Joseph N. Tatarewicz, an associate professor of history at UMBC. “His nine years are widely considered a time of stabilizing the identity and overall role of UMBC, establishing renewed trust with the legislature and other governing bodies, and healing internal wounds.”

Dr. Dorsey stepped down as chancellor in 1985, when he was named special assistant to then-U-Md. President John S. Toll.

“Enrollment is up, SAT scores are up,” Dr. Dorsey told the Baltimore Sun, reflecting on his tenure at UMBC. “Everything is up.”

After coordinating university-wide economic development efforts, Dr. Dorsey returned to the classroom as an economics professor at College Park. He retired in 2001.

John Wesley Dorsey Jr. was born June 13, 1936, in Hagerstown, Md. His father was a farmer, his mother a teacher.

He was a 1958 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the U-Md. at College Park and also graduated from the London School of Economics. He earned a doctorate in economics in 1964 from Harvard University.

Dr. Dorsey served on the boards of the State Employees’ Credit Union of Maryland and the Council on Economic Education in Maryland.

His first marriage, to the former Doris Marshall, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 25 years, the former Jeanne Ascosi, of Laurel; a daughter from his first marriage, Rachel Dorsey Small of Ashburn, Va.; and three grandchildren.

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