STEVENSON, Md. — When President Kevin Manning arrived at what was then Villa Julie College 16 years ago, he found a sleepy commuter school without dorms and only 1,600 students.
By the time he retired last month, the school had grown to three campuses with 4,200 students and double its previous number of undergraduate programs. It had a new name, too: Stevenson University.
“If somebody just looked at the stats under Kevin’s leadership, it would be so impressive,” said Tina Bjarekull, president of the Maryland Independent College and University Association.
Manning had previously announced plans to retire in June. The university announced Nov. 29 that he was retiring immediately for health reasons.
“He thought it best to retire now in order to attend to some important but manageable health issues,” James Stradtner, the board of trustees chairman, said in a statement.
A university spokesman declined to elaborate. Manning was not immediately available for questions.
Manning retires as the fourth president of the school, founded in 1947 to train women as nurses and secretaries.
“It went from a small, private university with a good reputation to an incredible, visionary campus and education center. I mean, he really did it,” said Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, whose district includes Stevenson. “It’s just an amazing transformation for that university. My hat’s off to him. I hate to see him go.”
Bjarekull remembered attending a groundbreaking ceremony for the campus in Owings Mills. The site was just a dirt lot.
“If you go there now, it’s just a vibrant college campus,” she said.
Manning oversaw the opening of the first residence halls in 2004; there are five dorms today. The school’s name was changed from Villa Julie to Stevenson in 2008.
At the time, many students and alumni opposed the name change. Manning acknowledged that the transformation would be traumatic.
“We are going to get some phone calls and letters,” he said then.
The school grew from 66 acres to about 170 during Manning’s tenure. Today, it offers more than 700 undergraduate and 100 graduate degrees, Bjarekull said. She has served as president of the independent college association for the past 14 years and tracked the growth at Stevenson.
“He is probably one of the most innovative and dynamic leaders we’ve seen,” she said.
Manning, 71, graduated from Webster University near St. Louis and has worked for more than 40 years in higher education, holding administrative positions at Immaculata University and Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis.
This year, a 200,000 square-foot building was finished on the Owings Mills campus and named the Kevin J. Manning Academic Center.
The university board of trustees has begun searching for the next president. The board expects to name Manning’s replacement in the spring, Stradtner said.
Until then Claire Moore, the vice president of student affairs and an alumna of the university, will serve as interim president.
Still, Manning’s legacy will endure at Stevenson, Almond said.
“As far as I’m concerned,” she said, “he is Stevenson University.”