Maryland legislators want to reform the University System of Maryland Board of Regents after last fall’s chaos surrounding the University of Maryland, College Park football program led to changes on the board and on campus.
Bills in the Senate and the House of Delegates would change the composition of the board, require online streaming of meetings and require employment decisions about university presidents to be voted on in public.
Even without last fall’s events, it was time to take a look at the Board of Regents, Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel and the bill’s sponsor, said.
“I think the public has lost a lot of trust in the board and it is a natural thing for the General Assembly to review, when we need to, how the board governs our higher education system,” she said. “I think it’s a natural look at the board. The law hasn’t changed since 1988.”
Elfreth is a former student member of the Board of Regents.
Fallout from last year’s investigation into the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair and the investigation into the football team’s culture created an uproar within the university community, including backlash from donors and fundraisers.
After the board asked Wallace Loh, the university’s president, to reinstate DJ Durkin as football coach, Loh announced he would retire at the end of this year. He later fired Durkin anyway.
Loh now plans to retire in 2020.
The board’s actions created an uproar on the university campus and from donors and state lawmakers, who worried that the Board of Regents had overstepped its bounds. They also questioned the transparency with which the board made its decisions.
Then-board Chair James Brady later resigned after members of the campus community made it clear they were unhappy with the board’s actions. That backlash included the chair of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation Board of Trustees saying Brady may have dealt a “fatal blow” to the university’s capital campaign.
The backlash included a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee where lawmakers, including House Speaker Michael Busch, questioned Chancellor Robert Caret, new board Chair Linda Gooden and Loh.
Elfreth’s Senate bill has the bipartisan support of 30 cosponsors. Del. Ben Barnes, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, sponsors the House bill with six co-sponsors.
The legislation follows steps by the board to review its own governance structure. It announced last week that it had commissioned the Association of Governing Boards and Colleges to launch a review next month, with the expectation that it will be completed in March.
“In recent months, the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents has refocused on its role as the governing body for 12 state universities and two regional higher education centers,” the system said in a statement. “There are important components in the proposed bill that will strengthen the board. We look forward to working with the sponsors of legislation to ensure that the board continues to operate for the benefit of the system’s 176,000 students across the state.”
The bill would add four new members to the board, one appointed by the Senate president, one appointed by the speaker of the House of Delegates, a second student member and the state secretary of commerce as an ex-officio member of the board.
The board is currently made up of 17 regents. Sixteen regents are appointed by the governor to serve five-year terms on the board and the secretary of agriculture is an ex-officio member of the board.
The bill would also require nominees to the board to be appointed within the first 40 days of the session for Senate review. That should give the Senate the ability to make sure nominees are diverse and come from different parts of the state, Elfreth said.
Currently the Board of Regents elects its chairperson. The legislation would require that election to happen every year in December and would require the chair to be confirmed by the Senate.
The legislation would also work to improve the board’s transparency. That includes requiring video live-streaming and archiving of all open meetings and keeping tallies of all board votes, whether they occur in open or closed meetings.
The board had been criticized last fall for not making it known how regents voted.
“The transparency side I think is pretty obvious,” Elfreth said. “Technology has been updated. We couldn’t live-stream in 1988.”
Because the resignation of Loh caused a significant amount of the uproar last fall, the legislation also requires that any votes related to the employment or termination of university presidents or the system’s chancellor happen in an open session.
The bill also requires the board to make time at public meetings for public comment.