John S. Toll, Maryland’s first state university chancellor and former president of Washington College on the Eastern Shore, has died.
Toll, 87, died Friday morning after a long illness, according to Washington College officials.
A physics prodigy from Chevy Chase, Toll earned a bachelor’s degree at Yale, served in the Navy in World War II and returned to earn a doctorate at Princeton, according to a biographical page at Washington College.
He joined the University of Maryland and served 13 years as chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, taking the job at 29.
He left in 1965 to become the first president of SUNY Stonybrook, building that campus from 1,800 students to 17,000.Newsday listed him among “100 Who Shaped the Century.”
Toll returned to U-Md. in 1978 as president, and presided over what was then a system of five campuses. Its physics building bears his name.
A decade later, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer placed him charge of merging those campuses and another university system into the University System of Maryland, with Toll as chancellor. But a power struggle prompted his resignation in 1989.
He went to work on the superconducting supercollider project. Congress de-funded it in 1994, another career setback, according to a 2004 account by Washington Post colleague Amy Argetsinger.
Toll moved to Washington College, a prestigious liberal arts school on the Eastern Shore, as its president in 1995. He’d gone from a 20-something department head to one of the oldest college presidents in the nation, at 71. He left in 2004 to return to physics research.
In physics, he “labored on the research team that developed peaceful uses for nuclear fusion after World War II,” according to the 2004 article.
Here is Argetsinger’s account of Toll’s time at Washington College:
There were some at Washington College who doubted that Toll would be up to the task. The school was in financial straits, with merely 850 students. “They thought he was coming here to retire,” recalled Jay Griswold, chairman of the college’s governing board.
But within months of his arrival as interim president in January 1995, Toll had largely resolved the fiscal crisis. He slashed spending as deeply as he could without shutting programs. And he rallied the board of visitors to raise 50 percent more in private donations than in the previous year. That May, the board suspended its search for a president and asked the interim to stay. Toll and his wife, Deborah, having fallen for the picturesque waterfront community, agreed.
Toll’s next step was to try to boost enrollment, through a somewhat risky strategy: He proposed that the college offer scholarships of $10,000 a year to any student who had been a member of the National Honor Society in high school. Within two years, the number of applications surged by 40 percent and the mean grade-point average jumped from 3.0 to 3.3 -- which had the effect of boosting the college in national rankings and drawing even more applicants.
Today, Washington College enrolls about 1,400 students -- roughly half of them recipients of the NHS scholarships -- and competes with a higher echelon of institutions.”
“We know many students are using us as a backup when they apply to Harvard and Princeton,” Toll told her. “That’s all right.”