USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan’s Statement on the Death of John S. Toll, Former Head of the University System of Maryland

From William E. Kirwan, Chancellor, University System of Maryland

The University System of Maryland community expresses its deepest sympathy on the passing of John S. Toll, an extraordinary and brilliant man who devoted his life to advancing excellence. The founding chancellor of the University System of Maryland, Toll was a gifted physicist, a dedicated and highly effective higher education leader, and an exemplary public servant. He was one of the giants of Maryland higher education.

As a young scientist, Dr. Toll helped establish what became known as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. He would later join the physics faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park and, as its chair, lead it to become one of the university’s first nationally renowned academic departments.

He left Maryland in 1965 to serve as president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook for 13 years. When John Toll returned to Maryland in 1978, he began a 10-year tenure as president of the five-campus University of Maryland, guiding the development of policies and practices that helped the system to move toward the ranks of the country’s great public university systems.

Never satisfied with the status quo or mediocrity, Johnny relentlessly championed the merger of the then five-campus University of Maryland with the six campuses of the Maryland Board of Trustees of State Colleges and Universities, forming what is known today as the University System of Maryland. To him, this merger was vital to move Maryland’s public higher education network toward national eminence. Then-Governor William Donald Schaefer appointed Dr. Toll to serve as the first chancellor of the new 11-university system in 1988. In his 11 years as president and chancellor, Johnny worked tirelessly to improve the quality and salaries of faculty, encourage campuses to attract brighter students, increase fund raising efforts significantly, and involve the system more deeply in the state’s economic development.

When Johnny stepped down as chancellor in 1989, it was clear that he would never retire. That same year, he was named chancellor emeritus of the Maryland system and appointed to head the Universities Research Association, a position he held for five years. And in 1995, he was appointed president of Washington College in Chestertown.

Even after leaving Washington College in 2004, Johnny returned to the physics faculty of the University of Maryland, College Park, teaching in a building that in 2002 was named in his honor.

Johnny Toll laid a firm foundation for what is today a strong and widely respected public higher education system. His unabashed optimism and his relentless pursuit of excellence had an electrifying effect in mobilizing faculty, staff, and students to join his efforts. There can be no doubt that the present excellence of the University System of Maryland had its roots in the work of John Toll.

We join his wife Deborah and their family in mourning his loss and, at the same time, celebrating his extraordinary legacy.

[Read the entire press release here.]


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