Thirty years ago, David H. Nevins was an angry, long-haired student at what is now Towson University, fed up with the wealthy elite who made academic policy decisions.

So as a 21-year-old student-body president, he lobbied the legislature to add a student to the board of regents overseeing state colleges in Maryland. Then-Gov. Marvin Mandel signed the bill and appointed Nevins the first student with a voting seat on the board, an unusually powerful position for the time.

Yesterday, Nevins -- now a successful businessman -- was elected chairman of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, the merged system created in 1988. "It's ironic," he said; for the past few years, he has served alongside Mandel.

And he now thinks the board is a dedicated, hardworking group.

Nevins considered a career in higher education administration, receiving a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University, but wound up working in marketing. For the past 20 years, he has owned a Maryland-based marketing firm with a staff of 16. He is also a former chairman of Maryland Public Television and of Maryland Higher Education Loan Corp.

Nevins has supported and donated money to Democrats and Republicans, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) .

He was initially appointed in 1999 by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), then reappointed by Ehrlich.

"He's a consensus builder," Chancellor William E. Kirwan said. When Clifford M. Kendall decided to step down as board chairman, as sorry as the board was to see him go, Kirwan said, there was immediate consensus that Nevins, the vice chairman, should move into the role.

"He's very good at learning the issues well and then pushing hard for what he and the other members of the board think is right," regent James C. Rosapepe said. "He's a real doer."

Nevins, who has led the finance committee, said he is eager to work to improve the quality of academics and to increase access, by making education as affordable as possible and by enlarging the capacity of the system.

He'll do that, he said, by working with college presidents, the board, state leaders -- and students.

"Thirty years ago, I thought they [board members] were the rich, powerful, aloof guys who sat around and raised tuition willy-nilly," he said and laughed. "Now I'm one of them. I have met the enemy, and I am it."

Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.