University of Maryland President Darryll Pines joins us to discuss what he envisions for this academic year — and for the future of the university.

University of Maryland President Darryll Pines joins us to discuss what he envisions for this academic year — and for the future of the university.

When Darryll Pines stepped in to become the newest president of the University of Maryland at College Park, there was no pandemic. No nationwide protests against racism. No distance learning. No masks.

Now, the former dean of the engineering school is leading the university through “two pandemics” — COVID-19 and racial injustice.

Kojo sits down with President Pines to talk about the immense pressure of shepherding the university through this frightening and historic moment, and what he envisions for this academic year — and for the future of the large research university.

Produced by Julie Depenbrock


  • Darryll Pines President, University of Maryland, College Park; @President_Pines


  • 12:32:02

    KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Darryll Pines is stepping in to become the newest president of the University of Maryland at an extraordinary moment. The former dean of the engineering school is starting his new job leading a major public university amidst two kinds of crises, COVID-19 and racial injustice. Joining us to discuss shepherding the university through this watershed moment is the aforementioned Darryll Pines, the new president of the University of Maryland at College Park. Darryll Pines, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:32:32

    DARRYLL PINESHi, Kojo. Thank you for having me.

  • 12:32:34

    NNAMDIFirst off, sir, what has it been like to step in as president of Maryland's flagship public university during a pandemic?

  • 12:32:41

    PINESWell, first of all, Kojo, I just want to thank you for having me on today and thank you for all the work that you have done over the years for giving voices to a variety of communities. So, I'm grateful for your service to this Washington, D.C. and national audience.

  • 12:32:56

    PINESSo what is it like stepping in as the 34th president of the University of Maryland? First of all, it's an honor to serve this great institution that I've been at for 25 years. And my two top priorities have been the focus on excellence in everything that we do and on creating a more inclusive and multicultural environment. But, of course, everyone wants to know about what we're doing related to safety, as it relates to this virus.

  • 12:33:23

    PINESSo, everyone on campus is expected to follow some very core guidelines. If you are sick, do not come to campus. If you feel sick while at work, go home. Monitor your daily health and complete a COVID-19 employee screening checklist every day before coming to campus. Obviously, wear facial covering at all times indoors and outdoors and when other people are nearby. Stay at least 6 feet apart and maintain social distancing. And, of course, maintain personal hygiene related to washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizer. So, there's a number of measures that we have put in place to ensure that our campus community's going to be safe this fall.

  • 12:34:04

    NNAMDIYou have been at the University of Maryland since the mid-1990s, and then became later dean of the engineering school. Your children attended College Park. What does it mean to you personally to be in this position as president of the university?

  • 12:34:17

    PINESWell, as you said, I've been here 25 years. I've had a great career coming up as an assistance professor in aerospace engineering. Also moving up through the ranks and becoming a full professor and then becoming the chair of the department, and then ultimately becoming the dean and now ultimately becoming the president. You're absolutely right. I've had two children, two Terps come through College Park, my daughter in biology and my son, who has a few more credit hours to finish. So, we're a Terp family, if I can say that.

  • 12:34:49

    PINESWe love the university. We love the state of Maryland. We love the region. And my service as president is really -- because it has been so good to me, it's one way in which I can give back by serving as its 34th president.

  • 12:35:03

    NNAMDIWell, a lot of people who may not know who you were are saying, after they found out, wait a minute, he's Donovan Pines' father. (laugh)

  • 12:35:15

    PINES(laugh) Yeah, this is how I'm known today. I'm not known as the president of the University of Maryland. I've simply known by that moniker which is, Donovan Pines' father.

  • 12:35:26

    NNAMDIDonovan was a soccer standout at Maryland and now plays for D.C. United. You said, in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, that we are now living in two pandemics, one associated with the virus, the other with racial injustice. What did you mean by that?

  • 12:35:40

    PINESYou know, I would now add one more pandemic. I would say we're living in three pandemics. Yes, one associated with the virus, one associated with the social unrest that has catapulted because of the loss of Mr. George Floyd. And, finally, the financial impact that it has to the entire economy in the United States, the world. And, of course, with 41-plus million people out of work.

  • 12:36:05

    PINESIt is important that, you know, every University of Maryland person feels that they're valued. So, that's the first part. One of the pandemics was the social unrest. I think it's time for all of us to create a more inclusive environment in which every human being feels that they can reach their potential. And, of course, the universities are a part of that in the educational enterprise.

  • 12:36:27

    PINESTalking about race, specifically, systemic racism in America has to be an ongoing and integrated process and discussion where we have these authentic conversations with our students, with our faculty and with our staff. And that, where else to best have those conversations then a college campus? Of course, the virus has taken over the world, and we have responded to protect our community, and we seek to do that as we go into the fall.

  • 12:36:56

    PINESAnd, of course, the third pandemic, the financial impact, as it relates to the economy and things that have happened to us, and now we're all trying to survive and make our way while tele-working for some people. And some people happen to be essential employees. So, I think the challenge is multifaceted, but, you know, we're up for the challenge.

  • 12:37:19

    PINESI think that universities are great places to help educate people on many of these issues, including the research that's related to COVID-19 and coming up with vaccines and trying to come up with real great solutions for this problem.

  • 12:37:33

    NNAMDIA number of incidents of racism and violence have occurred on the Maryland campus in recent years. I'm thinking in particular of the murder of black Bowie State University student, Second Lieutenant Richard Collins, III. Now, with ongoing nationwide protests, you've called for immediate actions to address racial injustice and foster a better campus culture. What specific steps are you taking in that regard?

  • 12:37:58

    PINESWell, I just want to say, absolutely, the loss of any student's life on our campus is tragic. Indeed, the loss of Lieutenant Collins was a tragic event on our campus. So, realizing the three pandemics that we are in, especially the one as it relates to social unrest in our country and racism and police brutality, on the very first day of my presidency on July 1st, 2020, I announced 12 new initiatives. I've kind of bracketed these initiatives into sort of three broad areas.

  • 12:38:31

    PINESOne, focus on the student experience. One, focus on creating a multicultural environment that's inclusive. And third, advancing our university's mission. So, let me just highlight one of the programs of the 12 that moves towards the addressing the sort of systemic racism, the cultural divide in our nation that helps try to build a better community.

  • 12:38:56

    PINESSo, at University of Maryland, I am launching a program this fall which I'm calling Terrapin Strong. And this program will focus on what it means to be a Terrapin and to exhibit Maryland pride. I have proudly witnessed, over my past 25 years -- and I want my fellow Terrapins to experience the same great feeling that I have about this university. This new program will include a brief history of our institution, unconscious bias and antiracism training, diversity, equity and inclusion training, sexual harassment training and an introduction to our cherished traditions.

  • 12:39:31

    PINESAdditionally, every student will come in this fall, will go through this onboarding for all 4,000-plus students who are freshmen. And we'll do this every year to kind of change the culture systematically by starting with the very first class of students. And we'll do this for entering students, entering staff and faculty and all those folks who have been here already. We've never done this at the University of Maryland. I've been doing this in the college of engineering, and it's really changed our environment and made it more inclusive. So, I know it can work across the university.

  • 12:40:01

    PINESAdditionally, I wanted to also mention, as part of one of my other 12 priorities, it was to increase diversity of diverse students on our campus who are admitted and enrolled both in the undergraduate and the graduate program at the University of Maryland.

  • 12:40:14

    PINESI'm happy to say that the total number of graduate students who have indicated that they wish to enroll in the University of Maryland this fall is up by 5.5 percent. And those related to African-Americans are up by 8 percent. The Latinx community up by 17 percent. The Asian community up by 4 percent. And those who identify as multiracial, up by 26 percent. So, I'm trying to address a more diverse culture and multiple ways, one through an on-boarding program and one through enrolling and recruitment.

  • 12:40:44

    NNAMDIBefore I go to the phones, diversity in a university's faculty is also important. You are an African-American aerospace engineer. I have a son who is a black neuroscientist, so I know what his experience has been. But what has your experience been as a minority among the engineering department faculty?

  • 12:41:03

    PINESSo, I think those of us who are in STEM disciplines who have come from underrepresented backgrounds tend to find that there are fewer of us, both in the faculty and amongst the graduate student pool. And it's not for a lack of interest. It's simply for a lack of opportunity for some and a lack of engagement at the undergraduate level to bring those into the research, and then to have them go into the graduate schools of our country.

  • 12:41:28

    PINESSo, like your son, I've seen that over my career. It has not bothered me and I haven't had that many problems related to being one of many. But, indeed, there's a dearth in the number of diverse students at the graduate level and some of the disciplines, of course, including engineering. So, in my college, as dean, we put together programs to double the number of African-American faculty in my college, which happened during my time as dean. And we doubled the number of female faculty in my college in my time as dean. So there are programs and processes that I tend to do across the campus to achieve those same outcomes that we achieved in engineering.

  • 12:42:06

    NNAMDIOn to the phones, here is Joseph in Columbia, Maryland. Joseph, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:42:12

    JOSEPHThank you so much, Kojo, for having me. Mr. President, I want to congratulate you, and I want to wish you well as you continue your new endeavor. My question is related to my daughter. A party, yesterday, inside of the university, (unintelligible). Before they left for this break and the shutdown of the school, she was compelled to pay for a lease by the (word?) apartment and condos (sounds like).

  • 12:42:38

    JOSEPHAnd because of the way that the next school session will be, which is going to be a lot of online and very few days on campus, I wanted to speak to the fact that the (unintelligible) apartments wouldn't let them out of their lease, even though school is not going to be (unintelligible) student. She's going to have most of her classes online. Is this something that is in your jurisdiction that you can speak to, as to allowing the students to break their lease? We're talking about 3,000 students that are signed on, that they won't let them off. I wonder if you can speak to that, Mr. President.

  • 12:43:20

    PINESThank you for your question, and thank you for the fact that your daughter's in information science, which is also another STEM discipline. Yes, I understand your question and understand the challenge that you face and also we face. So, we have a few apartment complexes that are what are called public-private partnerships. We don't completely control how they operate, although they work to partner to house our students during the academic year.

  • 12:43:45

    PINESWe are in constant conversations with them to find an approach and solutions to the fact that possibly some of our tenants, our students may want to get out of their leases. And it's hopeful that, in the next few days, we will have some solutions for you as a parent and your daughter as a resident in these particular resident facilities. So, hopefully, there'll be some positive news coming out in the next couple of days. We've been working very closely with our partners, and I'm hopeful that they'll come up with some solutions that they'll be able to offer parents and students like yours.

  • 12:44:15

    NNAMDIJoseph, thank you very much for your call. Now, on to Wendy in Bethesda, Maryland. Wendy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:44:22

    WENDYThanks so much for taking my call. First of all, congratulations. I think Maryland is very lucky to have you. My daughter's an incoming freshman at Maryland this fall, and while I'm happy she'll have the dorm experience with you, I' also worried about her safety and the safety of others. And so how will Maryland make the decision if or when dorms will close this fall or winter, and how will the university be able to reimburse if dorms do close for many months at a time?

  • 12:44:47

    NNAMDIBefore you respond to that, President Pines, allow me to add Isaac in College Park, Maryland, who seems to have a similar concern. Isaac, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:44:57

    ISAACThank you. I'm a rising sophomore and a computer science major at College Park. And the university, in the past, has had some issues with overcrowding in the dorms, forced triples converting dorm lounges into large dorm rooms with many, many people. The university has stated multiple times in their communications with us, the student body, that they're planning on reducing student density in the on-campus housing. And I was wondering if there is any -- if we can get any details on how they actually plan to do that.

  • 12:45:29

    NNAMDIEverybody's concerned about density, President Pines. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:45:32

    PINESNo problem. First of all, thank you, Wendy. Congratulations to your daughter for being a freshman at College Park. Thank you, Isaac, for being a sophomore in computer science, another great STEM discipline. So, let me try to answer both of your questions. So, generally, in the return to campus for University of Maryland College Park, we have been working, developing protocols to make sure that every student, their health and safety is priority number one. And that includes both in classrooms and in our residence halls.

  • 12:46:04

    PINESSo, specifically speaking to Isaac's concern about the residence halls. We have de-densified our residence halls such that there are no two-person -- no three-person suites, no four-person suites. And now, at this point, I can tell you that there's no two-person suites. We are now at about 48.1 percent capacity of occupancy of our residence hall. That means that literally every student literally will have one room -- no -- no -- literally, right now, no roommate, as it currently stands.

  • 12:46:37

    PINESNow, that may change a little bit, because there's some students who are friends and their parents want them to be in the same environment. And that would be like a social contract with one another. But we haven't decided one way or up on that one right now. But, right now, we've been dedensified to about, you know, one person per suite or one person per room occupancy and about 48 percent. So, hopefully that answers Isaac's concern.

  • 12:47:01

    PINESWendy's concern about arriving to campus. So, obviously we've got safety protocols. Students will have to wear masks both inside and outside and in large -- dense -- in large group gatherings. They will have to practice personal hygiene, monitor their temperature and their symptoms on a daily basis and to follow our campus protocols.

  • 12:47:24

    PINESAnd you asked the question as to how we will determine whether we're going to pivot to go fully online. And that will come in consultation with the Prince George's County Department of Public Health, or Department of Health. We've been closely working with them to help define our protocols, our safety protocols for the entire summer as we move into the fall. So, in guidance with them and the state's Department of Health, we will make a decision that we'll base on their guidance to us. And we've been doing that, literally, all summer. So, that will be the trigger by which we might have to pivot. And we may have to pivot in a 24-hour period to fully online. So, hopefully, that answers your question.

  • 12:48:05

    NNAMDIWendy and Isaac, thank you both for your call. The Census Bureau reported back in May that a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression under the pandemic. You support additional mental health counseling for students. What services are currently available, and how can that be expanded?

  • 12:48:24

    PINESYes, a great question, Kojo. We know that the pandemics that we are facing have had a tremendous mental impact on members of our community. And to create a more inclusive campus, we wanted to make sure that our citizens who are suffering some of this mental health anguish, that they have the services going forward to combat them.

  • 12:48:46

    PINESSo, our university health center and the counseling center will be open for both in-person medical assistance and counseling, as well as online options for support services and programs and activities that include tele-medicine appointments. So, they could be just fully online, or they can speak to a mental health professional. Also, our other activities, the pharmacy will be there, behavioral health services, health promotion and wellness services, the campus pantry and, of course, accessibility and disability services.

  • 12:49:15

    PINESBut this online modality that we have been -- sort of have almost created what is now being called either Zoom fatigue or digital fatigue. And we are trying to staff up to make sure that we can provide the appropriate service to both our students, our faculty and our staff.

  • 12:49:32

    NNAMDIHere now is Suad in Arlington, Virginia. Suad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:49:38

    SUADThank you. Just like to know if they have any plans for adults trying to go back to school, if there is some kind of program that, you know...

  • 12:49:48

    NNAMDIFor adult learners, so to speak?

  • 12:49:51

    SUADActually, like for adults trying to go back to school.

  • 12:49:53

    NNAMDII know there are a lot of programs like that.

  • 12:49:55

    PINESIf you were to just -- if you know your discipline that you're interested in, you would simply go into the department of interest and see if they offer remote learning to adult learners, which we have many courses and many programs that are certificate programs, degree programs and credentialing programs. So, you would just go into the discipline that you're interested in and to look for those graduate programs or those advanced programs for adult learners.

  • 12:50:20

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Your surveys show 80 to 90 percent of students want to return to campus. But I'm wondering -- given that many local school districts including Prince George's County, where the campus is located, have opted for remote classes -- might the decision to pursue a hybrid model shift at some point?

  • 12:50:40

    PINESIt may, Kojo, but right now, we're base lining this hybrid model. And even in the hybrid model, approximately 20 percent of our courses will be in person and 80 percent online. And even the in-person there are a combination of, in some cases, blended learning. One of the things that we wanted to do, Kojo, is we wanted to make sure that those seniors in high school from throughout the region, Virginia, D.C. Maryland, and also throughout the United States -- we get students from everywhere in this wonderful country of ours -- you know, they had a terrible senior year.

  • 12:51:13

    PINESOn my little block where I live in Howard County, three high school students who I knew, I knew for 10 years, you know, didn't have a normal graduation. So, I actually gave them a graduation ceremony as the dean of the college of engineering, just so that they would feel like they had a formal session. And what we want to do is give those freshmen students a wonderful experience this fall, to the best of our ability, that's safe and allows them to have a wonderful freshman student experience.

  • 12:51:39

    PINESAnd so that's why we went towards the hybrid model, and that's why 20 percent of the courses are in person. We wanted to have a high priority on this freshman class, and also a priority on the senior class. And make sure they also have a concluding experience, you know, here at University of Maryland College Park. So, that's why you see a hybrid model, but, yes, again, depending on the safety protocols and depending on our counsel that we get from Prince George's Department of Health officials, we would still pivot to a full online, because nothing's more important than making sure that the health and wellbeing of our citizens on our campus is highest priority.

  • 12:52:17

    NNAMDIMany students and parents, including in a class action lawsuit against dozens of universities, are demanding that tuition be lowered if learning is to be mostly or entirely online. And this week, Georgetown University announced it will cut tuition this fall for students who are not physically on campus. Has the University of Maryland made any decision about that, as yet?

  • 12:52:36

    PINESWhat we've done is when we pivoted in the spring, we pivoted within one week, like most of our fellow universities throughout the United States, to move to a fully online modality. It's quite possible that the quality that we presented to our students wasn't of the level that we would have expected for our institution. Over the entire summer, we have innovated our course work both in the online, blended and in-person modalities.

  • 12:53:05

    PINESAnd the product that we're producing will be of an incredibly high quality product that will be delivered to our students who will come here to be educated, to move forward in their journey in their careers, to get a degree and to move on. We believe that product will be of high quality, and that the students will really enjoy the learning that they're going to get this fall.

  • 12:53:28

    NNAMDIWill students ultimately have a choice about returning in person, as some public K through 12 school districts are offering?

  • 12:53:34

    PINESYes. We are being very flexible with our student population, especially those who are compromised with an immune deficiency or some other preexisting health condition. Our goal is to ensure that either synchronously or asynchronously, that almost all of our classes can be taken online in the event, first of all, if we had a public health situation that forced us to go online. But more importantly, to give the students and our faculty and our staff flexibility. I mean, the sort of term I like to use is that our students and our faculty are teaching and learning everywhere, from anywhere.

  • 12:54:08

    NNAMDIHere is Jovani in Washington, D.C. Jovani, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:54:14

    JOVANIThank you so much for taking my call and congratulations to the new president. I am a psychologist and concerned with diversity issues. And so I'm wondering, given the number of African-Americans that are diagnosed and the deaths that are also following, is there something in place for the students, or either your institution, to consult with diversity specialists to make sure their needs are being heard?

  • 12:54:40

    NNAMDIYou only have about 40 seconds left, President Pines, but go ahead, please.

  • 12:54:44

    PINESYes, Jovani. In the mental health services and funding that I'm providing to our health center, there are specialists who are psychologists and behavioral folks who are from diverse backgrounds who are actually identified to work with our diverse population faculty staff and students on our campus. I'm also working very closely with our vice president for diversity inclusion to make sure that we identify those students who might be suffering from what has happened to them and their families, so that we can provide them the appropriate services going forward.

  • 12:55:14

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Darryll Pines is the new president of the University of Maryland at College Park. President Pines, thank you so much for joining us, and good luck to you in your tenure.

  • 12:55:25

    PINESThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:55:26

    NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up Friday on The Politics Hour, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson joins the show to talk about budget cuts. And Montgomery County Councilmember Gabe Albornoz on how the county is helping Latino residents who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. That's Montgomery County Councilmember Gabe Albornoz. He'll be joining us, also. And that all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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