William E. (Brit) Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and a longtime national figure in public higher education, will resign from his leadership post when a successor is named, Mr. Kirwan announced on Tuesday.
Mr. Kirwan, who is 76, has led the Maryland system for 12 years and served as president of Ohio State University from 1998 to 2002. He has been at the forefront of national conversations about reducing college costs, including athletics spending.
During his tenure at Maryland, Mr. Kirwan surmised that political winds were shifting across the country and that colleges would be called upon to rein in spending. He is credited with responding pre-emptively by freezing in-state tuition for four years, beginning in 2006, and voluntarily cutting the university’s budget by increasing teaching loads, among other measures.
The plan Mr. Kirwan led, dubbed the "Effectiveness and Efficiency Initiative," has saved the Maryland system more than $460-million, university officials say. Those results have made Mr. Kirwan a regular panelist at meetings of national associations, where he is often called upon to share the university’s cost-saving strategies.
Mr. Kirwan, who spent most of his career at Maryland, rose through the ranks as a mathematics professor at the university's College Park campus before taking on a series of administrative roles. During his 50 years in higher education, he has seen major college sports become big business and has brought attention to the fact that athletics spending has outpaced academic spending at some elite programs.
At the same time, Mr. Kirwan drew criticism for his support of an athletics-conference shift that many alumni viewed as financially motivated, secretive, and insensitive to tradition. In 2012, Maryland’s Board of Regents voted to have the university’s flagship campus, at College Park, leave the Atlantic Coast Conference, which it helped create in 1953, for the Big Ten Conference.
In February the agency that monitors compliance with Maryland’s open-meetings law concluded that the university’s board had violated the law when it met privately to discuss the move.
As alumni threatened to pull donations in the wake of the conference-change decision, Mr. Kirwan expressed concern in an email about "how ugly" the situation had become.
The chancellor has said that he did not drive the decision to change conferences, but supported an effort that he says was led by Wallace D. Loh, president of the flagship campus. Mr. Kirwan has said there was a sound academic justification, not an athletic one, for his support of the move to a conference whose members include other well-respected institutions.
A host of higher-education officials and lawmakers praised Mr. Kirwan on Tuesday. Among them was U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, who said that Mr. Kirwan had "led the University of Maryland College Park to become one of the country’s great academic institutions. In the process, he became one of America’s most respected leaders and voices."