The University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ mishandling of a review into the Maryland football program may have dealt a ‘fatal blow’ to the university’s $1.5 billion fundraising campaign, the University of Maryland College Park Foundation said in a letter to the board Thursday.
At the same time, academic faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park, have added their voices to concerns about the role the Board of Regents played in the reinstatement of football coach D.J. Durkin before he was ultimately fired by President Wallace Loh Wednesday night.
But the focus turned toward the university’s fundraising efforts Thursday. The board’s actions could also jeopardize the university’s fundraising, wrote Geoff J. Gonella, the chair of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation Board of Trustees, in a letter to the Board of Regents.
“We are deeply distressed that you have not only dented our momentum in having raised over $900 million in this $1.5 billion campaign and over $3 billion including past campaigns, but you may have dealt our efforts a fatal blow,” he wrote. “The Board’s reckless conduct failed to consider any of these factors and occurred with virtually no consultation with any campus stakeholders.”
The foundation also expressed concern about board interference in university affairs.
The university system had emphasized that the board can only fire or hire the president of a member university, not any other personnel, in the weeks leading up to the release of a report it commissioned about the football team’s culture.
But Loh was reportedly told that he must reinstate Durkin to his position as football coach or he would be fired. At the same news conference announcing Durkin and athletics director Damon Evans would keep their jobs, Loh announced he would retire from the presidency next June.
The next day, following a full day of local and national backlash from politicians and news media, Loh reversed course and the university terminated Durkin’s contract. Loh has not indicated whether he intends to reconsider his retirement.
The foundation worried that the damage has already been done.
“Governing boards should not be hiring or firing football coaches on campus or any other personnel for that matter,” Gonella wrote. “The board’s flagrant violation of this principle has caused serious damage to the reputation of the Board of Regents and to all of Maryland higher education. The Board’s actions will seriously harm the ability of all Maryland campuses to recruit future presidents and faculty if this is the governance climate they will face.”
Faculty leadership, led by Provost Mary Ann Rankin and the deans of the university’s colleges, said they were also dismayed with how the process played out this week, including what they call the “forced retirement” of Loh.
“We have been extremely alarmed for weeks by the interference of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents into University governance matters,” the academic leaders wrote in a statement. “It is the President who is responsible for personnel matters at the University, and it is within the President’s discretion and authority to decide whether to retain athletics staff. Through its intervention, the Board of Regents usurped the President’s authority and intervened in the ability of the President to carry out his full duties and responsibilities.”
Rankin and the deans believe that the regents’ actions may have further consequences for the school, including to its accreditation. They cited a standard from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the university’s accrediting body, which states the institution “must operate as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy.”
“Therefore, the recent actions of the Board of Regents jeopardizes this autonomy, and may affect our accreditation status with a number of higher education governing bodies,” the statement said.
The academic leaders also encouraged the regents and Chancellor Robert Caret to “publicly affirm” their support for Loh’s leadership of the university.
Caret has been silent throughout the process, preferring to let the regents speak for their actions.
The university’s academic faculty and administrators are not the only ones calling the regents’ leadership into question. The student body president, Jonathan Allen, called Thursday morning for the resignation of James Brady, the board chair.
Wednesday night, former board chair James Shea and former chancellor William “Britt” Kirwan also questioned the board’s actions and called for Loh to reconsider his retirement.
In a radio interview Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan questioned the board’s decision-making process.
“I was sort of shocked at the decision they came up with, and I couldn’t imagine how they arrived at that decision,” he said. ‘It just didn’t seem to make any sense to me.”
The Board of Regents will hold a closed-door meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the situation.