U-Md. names Iowa provost Wallace D. Loh as next president

Wallace D. Loh
Wallace D. Loh (Courtesy Of The University Of Maryland - Courtesy Of The University Of Maryland)
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By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The University of Maryland community Tuesday rallied behind the selection of University of Iowa administrator Wallace D. Loh as its next president, embracing his immigrant roots and circuitous career path as welcome additions to a university striving for global reach.

Loh, 65, was announced Tuesday morning as successor to C.D. Mote Jr., who is retiring after 12 years as president of Maryland's flagship state university. The Iowa provost starts his new job Nov. 1, at a salary of $450,000. Nariman Farvardin, Mote's provost in College Park, will serve as interim president until Loh arrives.

Colleagues in Iowa City described Loh as an energetic and highly visible provost at that state's flagship, where he spent two years in a job that is a common pipeline to a presidency.

"He's a young 65," said Ed Dove, a professor of biomedical engineering at Iowa. "He should make a very good president."

Loh's hire ends a six-month search to replace Mote, who oversaw a rapid ascent at U-Md. In 12 years, the university rose in U.S. News & World Report's rankings from 30th to 18th among public research universities. Research funding more than doubled in that span and now exceeds $500 million annually.

The candidate was strolling across the College Park campus Friday when William "Brit" Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, telephoned to offer the job. The two met Saturday and "very quickly came to an agreement," Kirwan said.

Kirwan said he recommended Loh for "a range of experiences that are most unusual and, I think, extremely valuable for the president of a major research university."

The presidential search concluded in almost total secrecy. News of the appointment leaked late Monday.

In a note to the Iowa university community Tuesday, Loh stressed that he had not been looking for a new job. He had returned to Iowa with great fanfare in 2008, five decades after immigrating to the state as a teenager.

"This new opportunity is not one that I sought," he wrote. "The institution and the search consultants recruited me to take part in a relatively quick and confidential search process. I was -- and still am -- rather stunned, while honored to have been appointed."

Members of the search committee drew inspiration from Loh's life story, which is essentially that of a self-made academic superstar. Born in Shanghai in 1945, Loh, a native speaker of Chinese and Spanish, immigrated to Peru with his diplomat father and finished high school there. Then he came alone to the United States.

"His personal story is a model for the value that higher education can bring to a person's life," said Donald Kettl, a U-Md. dean who chaired the search committee. "It's just a downright good tale."

Loh was not poor. He told the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper that his family owned five square blocks in downtown Shanghai. Had the Communist revolution never occurred, he said, "I would not be a provost. I would be the Donald Trump of China."

But he was driven. Loh worked his way through Grinnell College, then received a master's degree at Cornell University, a doctorate in psychology at the University of Michigan and a law degree at Yale University.

Loh dabbled inside and outside academia. He worked as a lawyer in private practice and taught law at several schools, including Vanderbilt University, Emory University and Cornell.

His first administrative job was dean at the University of Washington Law School in 1990, where he led it into the top 10 among public law schools. He went to the No. 2 job of vice chancellor at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1995. Two years later, he returned to Washington state as chief policy adviser to Gov. Gary Locke, now the U.S. secretary of commerce. He spent nine years as a dean at Seattle University before taking the provost job in Iowa.

Under Iowa President Sally Mason, Loh distinguished himself by leading the university community in rebuilding after a devastating flood. He oversaw a campaign to bar those under 21 from Iowa City bars after 10 p.m., to curb a pervasive drinking culture. In those two years, he looked increasingly presidential.

"He's really just a rags-to-riches story, which is really inspiring," said Kaiyi Xie, a 19-year-old junior who was on the search committee.

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