Former Mayor Schmoke begins first school year as UB President

By Andrew R. Koch

Reviewing why UB became four-year institution

Kurt Schmoke has started his first year as President of the University of Baltimore. However, this isn’t the first time he’s been in the spotlight.

President Kurt Schmoke. Photo Courtesy of University Relations
President Kurt Schmoke. Photo Courtesy of University Relations

Schmoke became president of the university on July 7, taking over for Robert Bogomolny, who announced his retirement last Spring. Schmoke served three terms as Mayor of Baltimore from 1987 to 1999. Prior to that, he was Baltimore City State’s Attorney for five years. Growing up, Schmoke was recognized for his accomplishments on the gridiron as a star quarterback at Baltimore City College High School. Prior to coming to UB, Schmoke was Dean of the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

“There were a couple of graduates of the University of Baltimore who first raised the possibility of my coming here with me. I hadn’t really thought about it,” Schmoke said when asked why he chose to apply or the UB President opening after serving as the Dean of the Law School at Howard from 2003 to 2012, and then as general counsel and even interim Provost. “When I found out that President Bogomolny was retiring, and these graduates said something to me about it, I just started reading more about the University of Baltimore, and was very impressed with the progress and the energy of this place over the last few years […] I thought my experiences as an elected official plus the higher education experience could be of great benefit to a public university.”

Schmoke said that’s when he decided to apply, and he feels fortunate to have been selected as the eighth president of UB. Schmoke says while he did learn a lot about Baltimore during his time as Mayor and State’s Attorney, he’s had to relearn the city because of how much it’s changed from when he was Mayor to now.

“That’s been one of the exciting things about coming to this position,” Schmoke said. “The city has made a lot of progress in a number of different areas. The University has made tremendous progress, and I had to learn about those things and how we can fit in the agenda of the city as an anchor institution.”

During a June 25 ceremony at Baltimore City Hall, UB joined seven other universities, including Loyola, Johns Hopkins, Morgan State, Coppin State, and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), along with the Bon Secours Health System, when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the city to provide jobs, investments in the community, and solutions to issues facing Baltimore.

The effort is towards a goal set by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to get 10,000 more families to move into the city. President Schmoke said UB will likely work together with the other universities on development projects. He says the administration would also like to work with the other institutions to develop synergies in programs such as communications design and digital entertainment, as well as other programs that are strengths for UB, such as business and pre-law.

“We really want to emphasize that we’re a career-oriented university,” Schmoke said, citing UB’s slogan, “Knowledge That Works.” “Everyday, I’m learning about another high quality that’s offered at the University of Baltimore, and I think it’s up to us now to try to let the community know a little bit more about some of these programs.”

President Schmoke says as one of Baltimore’s anchor institutions, UB will be working to not only make a positive economic development impact on the city, but also to make a positive impact on educating “Baltimore’s children.” However, changes are being discussed that could affect who can get what Schmoke called “a high-quality education at an affordable price.”

The University of Baltimore was established in 1925 as an institution for transfer and graduate students. In 2007, the University became a four-year institution when it enrolled its first group of underclassmen. However, the majority of students who enroll at UB are transfers and graduates. According to an article that appeared in the Sept. 5 edition of The Baltimore Sun, about 200 freshmen enroll at UB each fall, but that number has leveled off. In an interview that day with The Sun, Schmoke discussed how flat public funding the University is receiving is creating a need to work more efficiently. Schmoke says he was looking to start a conversation in the UB community, but wasn’t recommending changing the university back to what it used to be.

“I just wanted to understand better why the change was made, and whether the reasons that supported the change … still exist here in 2014,” Schmoke said, adding that the conversation with the University so far has been “very robust.”

“And what seems to be emerging is support for a more targeted, focused freshman admissions policy that align our admissions of freshmen with the strong upper-division programs that we offer, for example in business and accounting and forensic science.” He said he wanted to start a discussion about whether or not the University should focus more on its graduate and transfer students, or continue promoting freshmen admissions.

“What has come back from the community is that we shouldn’t consider this as an ‘either-or’ proposition,” Schmoke said. “Maybe we ought to consider it as making some adjustments to what we’re doing.”

Schmoke says there’s been support for both positions, and the administration is working on building a consensus, and he’s been talking with both faculty and students. At the most recent Student Senate meeting, he says the consensus he got from them was to keep freshmen admissions, but to align them with some of the upper-division professional and career-oriented programs so students can better distinguish what the University has to offer compared to other schools in the region, such as the University of Maryland Schmoke says a final decision about changing the type of institution UB is won’t be made until sometime in early October.

Orioles bring September, October magic back to Baltimore

By Andrew R. Koch

The Baltimore Orioles have been on a run for the ages since the end of May, as what was once a weak spot is now one of their strengths.

photo credit Keith Allison under a Creative Commons License
photo credit Keith Allison under a Creative Commons License

On May 30, the Orioles were 26- 27. They were struggling with consistency both at the plate and from their starting pitching. The starters were struggling to get past the fifth inning on a regular basis, putting a heavy strain on the bullpen. Since then, it’s been the starting pitching that’s been leading the way.

Left-hander WeiYin Chen has only lost twice in his last 24 starts, and ace right-hander Chris Tillman hasn’t lost a start since July 12. That, along with a 3.46 team earned-run average that’s good for third-low- est in the American League, have contributed to Baltimore’s 70-39 record since the end of May. The final homestand of the season was highlighted by Baltimore clinching its first division title since 1997, and the first at home since 1969, with a final division lead of 12.5 games over New York and 13 games over Toronto. Center fielder Adam Jones celebrated the division title by smashing “Victory Pies” in fans’ faces, and dousing the head groundskeeper in beer on the field. The Orioles also once again lead the league in long balls, with 210 home runs this season. The Colorado Rockies are second with 185, followed by A.L. East rival Toronto with 177. Baltimore scores nearly half of its runs on homers.

Baltimore’s bench players are getting some of the limelight due to injuries to key starters. Jimmy Paredes, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk, has been playing third base with Manny Machado out due to season-ending knee surgery. Paredes is quickly winning his way into the hearts of fans with some power, to the tune of four doubles, two homers and driving in eight runs in 11 games since being called up. With Chris Davis sitting out the rest of the regular season because of a drug suspension, Steve Pearce has gotten regular playing time at first base, and has responded with a career high .293 batting average and 21 home runs. Ryan Flaherty has seen regular playing time at second base and shortstop due to the struggles of rookie Jonathan Schoop at the plate and back spasms for J.J. Hardy. Flaherty has also shifted over to third as manager Buck Showalter works his defensive substitutions and lineup of relievers in the bullpen.

The Orioles finished off the regular season by going 3-4 on the road in the Bronx and in Toronto. The A.L. Division Series will start on Oct. 2.

Photo Credit

Baltimore welcomes theater project on Howard Street

Nowadays, North Howard Street in lower Mount Vernon isn’t much more than the Phaze 10 restaurant and lounge, the University of Maryland Medical Center, and the Eubie Blake National Jazz and Cultural Center; Antique Row is mostly a shadow of its former self. But recently, a theater redevelopment project has been approved for several neglected buildings on Howard St., hopefully spearheading the revitalization of the block.

The Walt Disney Theatre on Disney Dream. Photo courtesy of Bhaskar Peddapati under a Creative Commons license
The Walt Disney Theatre on Disney Dream. Photo courtesy of Bhaskar Peddapati under a Creative Commons license

Baltimore is home to a rich and diverse performing arts scene. For example, Center Stage’s 2014/2015 season features several plays such as the Tony Award winning Amadeus (a musical look into the life of Amadeus Mozart) Next to Normal and the stage adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life closing out the year. The Everyman Theatre begins the season with The Understudy (a black comedy about the egos of actors), as well as Grounded (a drama about a female fighter pilot’s reluctant, but necessary transition to drone piloting in light of an injury and family responsibilities). Everyman will also see the work of playwright Lynn Nottage performed within its walls, with the play “Ruined.”

The theater hub project will cost an estimated $7 million, which will be used to acquire three abandoned properties and convert them into a hub. This hub will consist of three performing spaces, each with a marquee, offices, meeting rooms, and, finally, a café for refreshments and beverages to quiet the appetites of future patrons.

Reaction to the project’s approval by City Hall has been nothing but enthusiastic, with comments ranging from abundant joy to measured excitement. The lead developer for the theater hub, Ted Rouse, was quoted by The Baltimore Sun as saying, “We are very excited to get to work […] our innovative co-working spaces on the upper levels, we have the small, but important, goal of reinventing capitalism so that it works for all residents of Planet Earth, not just the upper management of large corporations.”

Further excitement about the theater project also comes by way of the EMP Collective, a local group of young artists that run and manage a multi-use arts space downtown. The Collective is one of the groups that spearheaded the project from its inception and its artistic director, Carly J. Bales, is excited for the project and the further expansion of the city’s small but impressive arts scene.

In an interview with Maggie Villegas, also of EMP said, “This neighborhood has a lot of underutilized properties that have been in disrepair for so long, that the city is taking a chance on the DIY theatres. We hope that through this project, we can lay the groundwork for future artist-led developments. Baltimore should keep giving artists with big ideas a chance—that’s why we’re all here.”

The theater hub project is an endeavor which could signal the revitalization of the once-booming Howard Street corridor, providing another area of attraction outside of downtown neighborhoods and outlying counties for both citizens and tourists.

Photo Credit

Schaefer Center for Public Policy training judges for Election Day

By Andrew R. Koch

Last spring, the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy trained 2,000 judges to man polling stations throughout Baltimore for the Maryland Primaries in June. Another round of training sessions is underway to prepare judges for the Nov. 4 general election.

Election Judge training started on Sept. 19 and will continue through Sept. 27 in the Thumel Business Center. Training will continue between Oct. 1 and Oct. 9 at Winston Middle School on Winston Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. The program is under the direction of Government and Public Policy Professor John Willis (who was Maryland Secretary of State from 1995-2003), and will consist of three three-hour training sessions each day. The Schaefer Center election judges will be working in six early voting centers between Oct. 23 and Oct. 30, and 296 more voting centers on Election Day. Dr. Ann Cotten, Director of the Schaefer Center, says there’s only a limited amount of time to get all the election judges trained ahead of Election Day.

“Total, we’ll be training about 2,400 people in the next couple weeks, so it’s a very short window, so we have to be very efficient with our time and resources,” Dr. Cotten said.

She added that after all the election judge trainees are brought together for a presentation and lecture about election law, they’ll then break out into classrooms of about 25 people each. In the classrooms, trainees will get to do hands-on training to learn how to set up and then use the polling machines and poll books in what Dr. Cotten calls “a good opportunity” to do a run-through of what it’ll be like on Election Day.

Election Judges are selected by the Baltimore City Board of Elections. Dr. Cotten explained that the Board of Elections requires a mix of judges from both major political parties. The Schaefer Center’s responsibility is to register and train the judges. The center features both a 20-station call center and an online training system for election judges.

“By bringing these assets of the Schaefer Center to bear, we can more efficiently run election judge training,” Dr. Cotten said.

The Schaefer Center has been hold- ing training for election judges since 2006. While Dr. Cotten said elections in the city have gone smoothly since then, the Schaefer Center didn’t start offering election judge training until after what Professor Willis described as a “disastrous” primary election in 2006.

“Almost 25 or 30 percent of the precincts opened late. They (the election workers) didn’t know how to use some of the new equipment. They had just a whole spate of problems in the 2006 primary,” Willis said, who’s also a Schaefer Center Faculty Fellow.

“We were asked by the state and the city Election Board to start providing training for the Baltimore City election judges.”

After that primary, Willis said the Schaefer Center trained more than 3,000 election workers in 22 days ahead of the 2006 general election. He said the call center was even used to give election judges reminder calls to show up to work at their assigned polling places on Election Day.

“We went from a situation where the city had a very bad experience with elections to where now, we have 294 precincts; 98 percent of them are opening on time. The error rates have gone down significantly,” Willis said.

“You rarely hear about a complaint in Baltimore City like you do in other larger jurisdictions about how the election has been administered.”

According to Dr. Cotten, 86 percent of election judges are returning, and they come back to get updates on changes in election regulations. Professor Willis says that as a result of the training, the average age of election judges has fallen by about a decade to around 60, indicating that younger people are getting involved in the election process as judges. However, he says most of the election judges in the city are still seniors in their 60s and 70s.

Laws of Cooking: Cinnamon Toast Cookies and Eggplant Tacos

Oh how I love Fall! While I love the weather, secretly, I love the food. It’s getting heartier, more rustic, and its soup time! I don’t have a soup recipe for you, at least not this month, but I do have some more of my fall favorites. As the weather changes, one of the things I enjoy doing is baking cookies, so this month, I’ll bring you my absolutely favorite cookie: Cinnamon Toast Cookies. When I was sick as a kid, my mom would make me toast with butter and cinnamon sugar; this is my adult version of one of my childhood favorites.

While at a farmers market this week, I found the most beautiful looking baby eggplants. Because they are perfect for this time of year, I decided to make a meal that is affordable, quick, and easy—my Eggplant Tacos. Feel free to use any soft cheese that you like with this, although I would recommend shying away from the moldy varieties like bleu cheese or gorgonzola; brie, goat, and camembert are all good options.

Eggplant Tacos

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Easy to make, eggplant tacos are the perfect 30-minute from prep-to-eat meal.

Ingredients:

2 Baby eggplants (about six inches long and an inch and a half wide)

3 Baby portabella mushrooms

Salt, to taste

Olive Oil

Soft Cheese (I used goat cheese; room temperature)

Fresh basil or cilantro (rough chopped)

Small soft tacos

Eggplant tacos are ridiculously simple. You don’t have to use truffle oil; regular olive oil will suffice, but if you have some, it will definitely add to the flavor palette.
Eggplant tacos are ridiculously simple. You don’t have to use truffle oil; regular olive oil will suffice, but if you have some, it will definitely add to the flavor palette.

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice eggplant and mushrooms into ¼ inch slices and lay flat on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Roast vegetables for approximately eight minutes on each side. When done, place the mushroom and eggplant slices on warmed tortilla shells. Spread with the soft cheese and sprinkle with basil or cilantro.

 

Cinnamon Toast Cookies

Make sure you get your mise en place together before you start baking. It will make it a lot easier once you begin.
Make sure you get your mise en place together before you start baking. It will make it a lot easier once you begin.

Ingredients:

½ cup salted butter

¼ salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 large egg

1 ½ cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon sugar, to taste (for rolling)

Method:

Cream together sugar and butter with an electric mixer.

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Slowly mix into the butter mixture until well blended.

Cover and refrigerate until firm enough to roll into balls.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll dough into ¾ inch diameter rounds. Roll in cinnamon sugar until fully coated.

On a lightly greased cookie sheet, place cookies one inch apart. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges.

Cool on the pan until cookies harden enough to be moved without breaking.

Far better than a snickerdoodle, these cookies just melt in your mouth.
Far better than a snickerdoodle, these cookies just melt in your mouth.

City Hall and CSX on shaky ground

By Benjamin Land

Take a trip north on Charles Street and look to your right on the corner of 26th Street. There you will see construction vehicles and personnel working to finish construction of a retaining wall. A wall that, when finished, will close the chapter on a story that began in April of this year when the previous structure collapsed. This incident was largely caused by years of neglect from city officials, inadequate inspections by the Department of Transportation and CSX Transportation, and, finally, a period of heavy rains in the area. With all of these factors in place, the street collapsed and forced not only the residents affected to relocate, but also forced City Hall to take a look into how this happened in the first place.

According to the Baltimore Brew, citizens had previously notified the city about the lack of structural integrity of 26th Street between Charles and St. Paul. These complaints were sent over a 12- to 14-month period, which was then followed up with visual inspections carried out by personnel who weren’t licensed structural or geotechnical engineers. This information was released via a report from City Hall on Aug. 17, and further states that, “There should have been more coordination by CSX and the City to identify the cause of the road and sidewalk collapse beyond a visual inspection.”

As such, the 100-year-old wall fell on April 30, showing the effects of the temporary repairs that the city made following the resident’s complaints. However, these repairs weren’t taken further and in doing so, there were no measures taken to ascertain the stability of the road in the long term. The collapse has prompted the city to follow new protocols when the city DOT receives citizen complaints of sunken sidewalks, sink holes and curb lines. Additionally, inspectors will be better trained from now on to identify potential risks to curtail any reoccurring incidents.

CSX agreed last month to pay $10 million towards the construction of the new wall, splitting the current amount of $18.6 million with the city. The freight transportation company also agreed to share the costs of any third party lawsuits that would come out of the street collapse at large. However, CSX’s standing with another construction site east of 26th Street, which also falls on the same train line, is problematic. The Sinclair Lane Bridge began construction around 2011 and remains unfinished to this day. The contract for the construction of the bridge has stalled due to cost overruns, created after the discovery of structural integrity issues. The final bill for this site is unknown at this moment, but the city will cover 25 percent of the associated costs.

Currently, the relationship between City Hall and CSX appears to be one that will be either hit or miss in the future. Recently, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake withdrew interest in an inner-city CSX yard that was planned to provide a local hub for the transportation company. So far, no alternative plans have been announced as to what will happen with the partnership outside of the 26th Street wall and Sinclair Lane project. But given that CSX’s presence in the city is hard to miss, 2015 will likely bring new developments to this relationship.