Bowie State University President Dr. Mickey Burnim is set to retire in June 2017. He is proud of his accomplishments during his tenure, saying he left the institution in a better position than when he arrived. Burnim made the announcement on Sept. 14.

On Sept. 29, Burnim spoke with the AFRO about his legacy as Bowie State University’s (BSU) ninth leader. He said while he will retire from the university, he will stay active in higher education and become more involved with his family. “Regarding retirement, I will transform from a full-time job to doing what I like to do,” he said. “I will do consulting work and be an executive coach in higher education. I plan also to travel with my wife and watch our grandchildren grow up.”

Courtesy photo

Burnim, who became president of BSU in Sept. 1, 2006, said he has given his best the past 10 years. “I hope that during my tenure that I proved to be a workhorse rather than a show horse,” the president said. “I wanted to make Bowie State a stronger institution. I wanted it to be better off than when I left it.”

BSU is located in Prince George’s County, Md., north of Bowie, Md., the county’s largest city. The university was founded on Jan. 9, 1865 and is the oldest Black higher education institution in Maryland. BSU offers 20 undergraduate majors, 20 master’s degree programs and two doctoral degrees, as well as various certificate programs in a wide range of fields such as nursing and computer science. BSU is a public institution and relies on the state of Maryland for much of its operating funds. The university has an enrollment of 5,561.

Burnim said he wanted to make an impact on BSU and realized after he was sworn in to the presidency in 2006 that he must move quickly. “Bowie State University has had eight presidents since its founding and one has a short window of opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “In 10 years, the university is fiscally sound with over $15 million for the comprehensive fundraising campaign and we have this fall 950 freshman, the largest we have ever had and graduated 1,180 in May, which is a record too. In the Washington, D.C. area, there is extreme competition for students but we are holding our own.”

Burnim speaks proudly of the cybersecurity program, which is unique among Black colleges. “One of our strongest and most visible departments is the Department of Computer Science and our work in cybersecurity,” he said. “We offer a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in cybersecurity. We have a wonderful staff in our computer science department aggressively writing proposals for grants and funding and I commend their hard work.”

Ricardo C. Mitchell, president of the Bowie State University Alumni Association, praised Burnim’s term. “Dr. Burnim did a lot of good things for Bowie State,” Mitchell told the AFRO. “He advocated for more majors and to increase enrollment. He helped build up the campus with the new Fine Arts, Student Union, and Science & Nursing building that is being worked on.”

Nevertheless, Burnim has had problems to face. “We face challenges in private fundraising,” he said. “Fundraising is tough generally and during my tenure, the Great Recession took place. Many people loss a significant amount of wealth during that time and weren’t giving as much.”

Before he leaves next year, Burnim wants to create an endowed chair for the university and expand its international program and complete a cybersecurity joint program with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

While Burnim has accomplished much, there has been some controversy. Recently, BSU held its graduation ceremonies on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park at the Xfinity Center. Many alumni, such as David Grogan, president of the Bowie State University 2000 Alumni Association, didn’t like that move at all.

“Many family members travel to see their child graduate and they get the chance to see the school for the first time,” Grogan told the AFRO.”I don’t know what his thought process was. You would never see anything like that at Howard, Spelman, or Morehouse.”

Mitchell acknowledged also that the commencement move rattled a lot of BSU alumni, staff and faculty but Burnim stands by the decision. “A committee of faculty, staff, and students recommended moving commencement activities because holding them on campus was inconvenient,” Burnim said. “There is the hot sun on the stadium field and in the past several people have fainted. The committee decided to go to an indoor venue with air conditioning, parking, and safety. I thought the committee’s recommendation made sense but you can’t please everybody.”

Grogan said he hopes the next president “is a visionary that will make Bowie State the premier school in the area.”