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Office of the President | Washington College

John S. Toll
Washington College President, 1995-2004
John S. Toll

Presidential Highlights (1995-2004)

The most successful campaign in the history of the College, surpassing its original target of $72 million by nearly 44 percent, with total contributions of $103.4 million as of December 31, 2003. The Campaign, which raised more than twice the previous campaign total, has quadrupled the College's endowment from $26 million in 1994 to more than $100 million today.

The establishment of the Washington Scholars Program, awarding $40,000 scholarships to National Honor Society and Cum Laude Society students who exemplify qualities of leadership, scholarship, character and service. Today, more than half of all students enrolled at the College are Washington Scholars.

A growing student applicant pool resulting in enrollment of more highly selective students, while maintaining the small, intimate learning environment that has always set Washington College apart from its peers. Applications have grown from 1,037 in 1995 to 2,100 in 2003.

A strengthened faculty. The number of full-time faculty has grown from 61 in 1995 to 83 in 2003. Four endowed chairs have been added, with an investment of at least $1 million each.

Heightened focus on global perspectives, with 30 international exchange programs—more than any other independent college in Maryland.

Enhanced academic programs with five new majors and the creation of two new centers—the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Center for the Environment and Society—that combine traditional academic programming with community outreach, engagement and research opportunities for students.

Renovation and expansion of the College's physical plant with the construction of two new academic facilities, a $20 million science teaching and research complex now under construction, 11 new student residence halls, and the renovation of numerous existing residence and academic buildings. The value of the physical plant will have grown from $30 million in 1995 to over $70 million in 2004.

National recognition and greater academic reputation as evidenced by the rising appraisal of Washington in U.S. News & World College Report and other college guides, as well as the addition of a chapter of Sigma Xi, the national scientific research society.

25th President of Washington College

In Memoriam: October 25, 1923 - July 15, 2011

John S. Toll's career in higher education has touched six decades, culminating in his presidency of a small liberal arts college that he helped redefine as one of the great small liberal arts colleges in the nation. Under his stewardship for the past eight years, Washington College has grown on several fronts—achieving greater donor support, a larger applicant pool and increased selectivity, more resources for faculty research and teaching innovations, an expanded physical plant, and a quadrupled endowment.

Upon the conclusion of his presidency at the end of the 2003-2004 academic year, his legacy will be defined by the Washington Scholars Program, a merit scholarship program that now supports more than half of all students enrolled at the College, a $20 million science facility now under construction, and an array of academic initiatives that includes two new centers that play to the College's strengths—its history as the first college founded in the new nation and its setting within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Dr. Toll, a Princeton-trained physicist, Chancellor Emeritus at the University of Maryland, and former president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, came to Washington College in 1995 from the physics department at the University of Maryland, where he had been working with graduate students and faculty on research. He served as Acting President of Washington College beginning January 1, 1995, and accepted the presidency on a permanent basis later that year. Dr. Toll devised a strategic plan for the institution and launched a campaign to fund a series of initiatives in academic programming, facilities, faculty enhancement, and building endowment. The Campaign for Washington's College has been the most successful campaign in the history of the College, surpassing its $72 million goal 18 months ahead of schedule, and now at $94 million with six months remaining.

The Campaign, which raised more than twice the College's previous campaign total, has quadrupled the school's endowment from $26 million in 1994 to $104 million in 2002.

After receiving his bachelor's degree in physics with highest honors from Yale University in 1944 and serving in the Navy during World War II, Dr. Toll completed his Ph.D. in physics at Princeton, where he helped to establish Project Matterhorn, now known as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. In 1953 he joined the University of Maryland faculty and served for thirteen years as chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

In 1965 Dr. Toll became the first president at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. By the time he left, the school of 1,800 students had been built to one of 17,000 students and, in addition to arts and sciences and engineering, they had added schools of public affairs, medicine, dentistry, nursing, allied health professions, basic health sciences, and social work. For his work there, Dr. Toll was listed among "100 Who Shaped the Century" by Newsday, the principal newspaper of Long Island, New York. The gift club of benefactors there is named for him.

In 1978, the University of Maryland invited Dr. Toll to return as President. At that time, he presided over a system of five campuses. Ten years later, at the request of then-Governor Schaefer, Dr. Toll headed up the merger of Maryland's two public multi-campus university systems. This led to the founding of the University of Maryland System, with Dr. Toll named as Chancellor. Though he left that post in 1989, Dr. Toll still serves as Chancellor Emeritus. In 2002, the University named its physics building for him.

During his early years at the University of Maryland, Dr. Toll had been involved in the founding of the Universities Research Association (URA), a consortium of 34 member universities with research programs in high energy physics, formed to build and to operate the National Accelerator Laboratory. In 1989 Dr. Toll became president of that group, whose membership has now expanded to 80 universities.

Dr. Toll's wife, the former Deborah Ann Taintor, had a career in economics and journalism before becoming involved in higher education as the wife of a university president. She still works as a leader for organizations in support of journalism and the arts. The Tolls have two grown daughters.

What People Are Saying About John Toll

Rita Colwell
Director, National Sciecne Foundation

"Dr. Toll is an extraordinary individual who brings energy and commitment to every project, to every task he undertakes. He has been an exemplary leader for Washington College, as well as for the University of Maryland System and, before that, SUNY Stony Brook. As an educator whose work has spanned six decades, John Toll has made a positive impact upon the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of students."

For additional remarks phone 703-292-800 or 571-332-6855

Robert Erlich,
Governor of Maryland

"The State of Maryland is indebted to John Toll, an accomplished educator who has proven equally adept as an academic leader in the university setting and in the liberal arts environment. He helped build the University of Maryland System into one of the nation's premier systems; he has closed his career by propelling Washington College into the ranks of the nation's finest liberal arts colleges."

For additional remarks phone 410-974-3591.

Freeman A. Hrabowski, III
President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)

"John Toll hired me into the University of Maryland System and has been one of my most helpful mentors over the years. I have seen him giving of himself to others in education over and over again. He has boundless energy and a giving spirit, and for decades he has been an inspiration to leaders in higher education throughout the nation. We owe much of our strength in Maryland higher education to this brilliant leader."

For additional remarks phone 410-455-3880.

Nancy Grasmick
Superintendent, Maryland State Department of Education

"I am pleased to join the joyous chorus who pay tribute to the outstanding accomplishments of John Toll. As the 25th President of Washington College, John Toll demonstrated his innovative leadership as he guided the College to new levels of excellence. I am gratified that I could always count on John's staunch support and genuine commitment to a quality education for our public school children. On the occasion of John's retirement, I thank him for his selfless, tireless, and distinguished service to improve the richness of post-secondary education in Maryland."

For additional remarks phone 410-767-0461.

Washingtonian Article about President Toll

Big Man on Campus

Why going to college costs so much, how today's students differ from their parents, and how education can turn a life around.

Interview by Ken Adelman, Washingtonian, September 2000

When John Toll retired at age 65 as chancellor of the University of Maryland System, few would have predicted that six years later he would be named to head another Maryland school. Now 76, Toll is thriving in his sixth year as president of Washington College in Chestertown, with no retirement in sight.

Toll was born in Colorado and graduated from Yale in 1944. After Navy service during World War II, he completed his PhD in physics at Princeton, where he stayed on as associate director of Project Matterhor, the code name for nuclear-fusion research. In 1953 he moved to the University of Maryland to become head of the physics department, later expanded to include astronomy.

In 1965 he was named president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He stayed there for 13 years before returning to College Park as president of the University of Maryland System. When it was enlarged in 1988 to include six additional universities and colleges, Toll became chancellor of the entire system.

Upon his resignation in 1989, he became head of the Universities Research Association, a consortium of universities that manage the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and other research endeavors in elementary particle physics. In 1995 he headed to Washington College. He continues to hold the unsalaried position of professor of physics at the University of Maryland.

Toll has been married for 30 years to journalist Deborah Taintor Toll. The Tolls have an official residence on the Chestertown campus and a house in Bethesda. They have two daughters. Dacia, 28, was a Rhodes scholar; after law school, she founded charter school in New Haven. Caroline, 26, attends the University of Maryland Medical School.

Looking spry and speaking with exuberance, Toll discussed what he's learned.


You keep the institution improving to meet the needs of students and to enlarge opportunities for discovery and service. It's a position with lots of responsibility and no authority.


Because the faculty guard their hold over academic decisions, and final decisions of the university reside with the board. A president gets what's left, essential what the board chooses to delegate. Yet the president does have a bully pulpit.


By selecting good people. In many institutions, presidents have some say over faculty appointments. They can influence the faculty, principally by persuasion but also occasionally by budget allocations and special awards. To attract and keep top professors takes special concessions, which usually come to the president for approval.


Absolutely. You have to get people to cooperate, which requires horse-trading--plus developing common goals. A president presents a vision, which must be shared by others or you're wasting your time.


Let other people seem like the initiators. Find people with good ideas and encourage them. Appoint committees to work on big issues. Meanwhile, help bring in grants and projects. Specific initiatives come from outstanding faculty members.


Well, maybe 89 percent. Much of my effort goes into fundraising, but people won't give unless they're convinced the institution has a great program run by good people.


Being intelligent, a leader in your field, and committed to great teaching. That person must have a knack for conveying the beauty and excitement of the discipline.

Leaders in the research also usually excel at teaching and inspiring others. They have more than deep knowledge in their field; they adore what they're researching and teaching. Their enthusiasm becomes contagious.


The problems of leadership are similar at both kinds of institution. But a liberal-arts college confines itself to undergraduate work, while a university gives equal or more emphasis to research and graduate work. Yet such distinctions have been shrinking.

Private institutions have self-appointing boards, whereas public institutions must be more responsive to the state's needs.


Through scholarships, recruiting, and solid programs. Especially at independent colleges, scholarships are essential. Washington College's annual tuition is more than $20,000; if you add room and board and fixed fees, it's more than $27,000. That's still less than Ivy League schools, but it's beyond what most families can afford. Eighty-seven percent of our students are on scholarships.


It costs a lot to have the finest teachers teach relatively small classes in nice facilities and to provide excellent support staff and extracurricular activities that foster learning and rounded development.


At Washington College they do. On average, each teaches three courses, with each course meeting three times a week. Add time for preparation, correcting students' material, meeting with students, attending faculty meetings, and most work 60-hour-plus weeks, not counting time needed to maintain scholarship.

A research university has even greater intensity since it must be competitive with the world's best researchers. Otherwise it won't attract or keep tenured faculty, federal grants, and foundation support.


Universities should grant tenure if that faculty member is the best obtainable in a nationwide search. That individual then makes a commitment to the institution. Tenure protects independent work. The faculty member can, without fear, begin research that takes four or five years to show results.

It's hard to get new ideas accepted. Albert Einstein, when he tried to have his first papers published, could only find one journal that would publish them. We've got to support brilliant people.


Tenured faculty must produce enough to fulfill their responsibilities. The great majority of faculty are hard-working and responsive to the needs of students.


Because other institutions will offer tenure even if you don't. The best faculty will then leave for a more attractive environment.


Athletics can help greatly in fundraising. But often people who support athletics are less helpful in support of other things.

The financing of Division I athletic programs is difficult. Consider a costly football stadium, where the team plays just five or six home games a season. Financing that stadium, athletic scholarships, and coaches may not leave a lot of extra money for the general university coffers.

Athletic events do provide a venue to invite the governor, legislators, and big donors to the president's box. But many top universities, like the University of Chicago, don't have strong athletic programs.

To me, the importance of athletics lies not in what it does for the budget but what it does for the participants. We want students with healthy bodies as well as healthy minds.

Moreover, athletics drive people toward excellence. Tom McMillen-a University of Maryland Rhodes scholar and basketball star who became a congressman-told me that athletics drove him to do his best. This drive carries over into the classroom: At major universities, student athletes get better tutoring than most other students.

But the situation is different at the small colleges in the NCAA Division III. Washington College gives no special consideration in admissions or aid for athletes. Once in, they can quit their teams at any time.


Yes, because we get good coaches. Some students come here because we've had championship teams-in lacrosse and tennis, for example. We're usually the smallest college in the NCAA tournament. Sometimes we even win.


In 1975 New York State rescued New York City, which was threatened with bankruptcy. Consequently, our university budget was sliced. Our small Stony Brook campus had to eliminate 108 positions in the middle of the year. I worked with the faculty committee to make sure we were improving the university when we made cuts as well as when we made additions. We decided together to eliminate the education department, which prepared future teachers. Other institutions on Long Island and around the state already performed that function, and our department wasn't as strong as theirs.

Yet after I worked all the faculty committees diligently, the faculty as a whole cast a vote of disapproval. I'm sure that was mostly out of loyalty to their colleagues. Regardless, my initial decision stuck. It helped make Stony Brook the great university it is.

Second, in 1987 then-Governor William Donald Shaefer decided to merge Maryland's two systems of state universities. He called together all the presidents and chancellors to announce his intention. He urged us to come up with our own plan, which we submitted to him within a month. After some changes by the legislature, the merger was approved. The new system is still settling down but has led to increases in the quality and efficiency of academic programs.

Maryland Governor Parris Glendening is supporting higher education nicely. If all the campuses would work more together and recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, they'd accomplish more than they do.


First, enable every American to have the opportunity for higher education. National programs like Pell Grants are far short of what's needed. Because of high tuition, students must take out large loans. Many have to delay or cut short their education. They could contribute so much more to society if they had the chance to obtain that education.

All studies of the GI Bill and other investments in education prove that higher education is an investment that pays off. We have less than adequate loan money, but the real need lies in undergraduate and graduate scholarships.

Second, find more money for research. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are great, but costs have risen so much faster than support, so we've been falling behind.

Third, increase student and faculty exchanges abroad. In our increasingly interconnected world, we need far more exchanges. This one doesn't only require money. The President and Congress need to permit the Immigration and Naturalization Service to become more cooperative. Einstein came to America under a special provision for intellectually gifted people. That provision no longer applies. If I want to bring a foreign scholar here, I have to prove that I can't find an American for that position, which is a very restrictive requirement.


I was president of Stony Brook during the Vietnam War, when universities could do nothing about war issues. Nonetheless, students chose to protest.

I applaud that students now protest about more immediate issues, such as diversity: How do we recruit more black students? We're eager to have more blacks at Washington College than our current 4 percent, but we can't get more because we don't have enough scholarship funds to support them.

Today's students are active locally. They volunteer to teach in schools, work on the environment, and become constructively involved. And they're curious. When Ralph Nader or Colin Powell speaks on campus, students jam the halls to listen.


Over the years, I've learned to do whatever I felt was most useful. The most useful job at first was being a professor. My life was perfect when I taught and conducted my own research. But then I went into administration because it seemed more helpful to others than my research did. Anytime the board wants to dismiss me, I'll happily return to research and teaching.

What I enjoy the most is seeing the remarkable progress students make. This year, Christine Lincoln, a remarkable black single parent, graduated from Washington College at age 34. She had bouts with drug addiction and despair, even had tried to commit suicide. Yet Ms. Lincoln overcame all this, entered Washington College, and, helped by our faculty, because a marvelous writer. She won the $54,000 Sophie Kerr Prize as the top writer in the graduating class. That award will help her complete her effort to turn her life around.


That it's a fabulous job if you don't care who gets the credit. With such a variety of issues and opportunities, I've found it almost as much fun as being a professor.

The president of a small college avoids the political maneuvering and pressures that come with heading the University of Maryland. There, I often saw students only if they were in trouble or were causing me trouble.


If you're not enjoying what you're doing, start doing something else.

Second, have long-range goals. If you're willing to spend a decade on a project, you can probably achieve this goal. Anything worthwhile takes time and effort.

Third, realize that nothing can be done alone. You've got to do everything cooperatively to have an effect. Fourth, make the most of your talent, and encourage everyone around you to do likewise. What bothers me most is wasted talent-people who could have done so much better but didn't try, weren't excited, or lacked the opportunity.

Last, emphasize the positive. Don't worry about everything that went wrong. You've done what you could. Move on.