From the Archives: The History of UMBC’s Future

Lindsey Loeper ’04, American Studies, is an archivist at UMBC’s Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery.

Since I am an archivist, many people would assume that my job is almost entirely focused on the past: what UMBC was like in the distant past, and how the place looked, and what people said. But some days I work with materials that show how people from the past speculated about UMBC’s future–sometimes in ways that proved to be wildly inaccurate. It can get confusing.

People working at UMBC think about the future of the school more than you may realize; the University Archives is full of 5 year plans, mission statements, master plans, principal building needs requirements, enrollment targets and more. Some of the planning reads like science fiction, the imagining of a 21st century campus from a distance of 30-40 years. A master plan prepared during UMBC’s first decade envisions an academic row (check), a central Commons linking the academic with the residential (check), and more parking lots than you could ever imagine:

Sometimes the plans that I find in the archives are intentionally aspirational: far-fetched, but useful in framing hopes. Others show UMBC at crossroads, examining alternative directions the administration, faculty, and students could move the campus. Recently, project archivist Jeff Karr shared with me an editorial written by Dr. George La Noue, professor of Political Science and Public Policy, published in The Retriever on November 22, 1982. Responding to a1981 report by Malcolm Moos entitled “The Post Land Grant University,” La Noue outlined and discussed four possible models for growth and development of UMBC:

As it turned out, UMBC did not follow any of these models, and their inclusion within the editorial is not what draws me to this piece and those like it. What makes these predictions from the past so compelling to me is the strong sense of their authors, borne out by our actual history, that if we work together as a campus, we can truly make an impact and advance this institution. To see so clearly how the school has grown and changed, how it has developed into what we now know as UMBC, is to appreciate the legacy of those who were here before us.

What is UMBC’s future, and how can we work together to bring it about? Dr. La Noue (the Dr. La Noue of 30 years ago) believed that discussing this question was “essential,” and that “Any university worthy of the name should engage in rational discussion and planning about its future.” He might have added that present-day visionaries should look to the past for inspiration about the future they will build through their labors.

Dr. George La Noue is currently working on a history of UMBC, for publication in 2014.

Contact the author, Lindsey Loeper, at (410) 455-6290 or lloepe1@umbc.edu.

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