ANNAPOLIS — The University System of Maryland Board of Regents supports legislation to change the board’s composition and increase transparency, the board’s chair told legislators Tuesday.
“The University System of Maryland Board of Regents is pleased to express our support for House Bill 533, which we believe will improve the way the USM Board of Regents operates, ensuring greater transparency for stakeholders throughout Maryland,” Linda Gooden, the board’s chair, told the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
Bills in the Senate and the House of Delegates would change the composition of the board, mandate online streaming of meetings and require employment decisions about university presidents to be voted on in public.
Del. Ben Barnes, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, sponsors the House bill and Sens. Sarah Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel, and Jim Rosapepe, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, sponsor the Senate bill. Elfreth and Rosapepe are former members of the board.
Barnes described the bill as an attempt to revisit the board more than 30 years after its creation, not an overhaul in reaction to last fall’s upheaval.
“We’re not going to rehash the past. It is not the intent of the bill,” he said. “The intent is to move us forward and provide additional oversight and accountability.”
The bill would expand the board’s size by four regents, adding the state secretary of commerce, a member appointed by the speaker of the House of Delegates, a member appointed by the Senate president and a second student member.
It also requires greater public access to the board, including video live-streaming of meetings and a public tallying of votes.
“As many of you vote in public, we should vote as well in public,” Gooden said.
The only issue Gooden took with the legislation was how it would affect student regents. Currently, the student regent serves a one-year term.
The bill instead requires students to serve a two-year term, one as a non-voting member and then one as a voting member.
Gooden’s concern is that a two-year commitment requires more from students who are also pursuing their degrees.
The legislation comes after the fallout from the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair led to questions about the board’s commitment to shared governance on campus and to a backlash from legislators and the university community.
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 regents had overstepped their bounds. They also questioned the transparency with which the board made its decisions after spending days deliberating behind closed doors.
Then-board Chair James Brady later resigned after members of the campus community made it clear they were unhappy with the board’s actions.
In addition to the legislation, the board has taken its own steps to try to improve accountability and transparency. It reserved a day of its annual retreat last year for discussions of shared governance, and it has commissioned a review of its governance structure, due next month.
Tuesday’s hearing was more placid than a hearing in the same committee last November in the midst of all of the uproar.
At that hearing, legislators, including House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Appropriations Chair Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, aggressively questioned Gooden and Chancellor Robert Caret about what happened.
Gooden also apologized at the November hearing and gave her commitment to moving the board forward with greater transparency and reviewing the system’s commitment to shared governance.
Tuesday’s hearing lasted about 15 minutes and included testimony only from Barnes, Gooden and Jonathan Allen, the president of the student body at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Only one legislator, Del. Marc Korman, D-Montgomery, asked any questions Tuesday. He inquired about Loh’s decision to delay his retirement a year. Gooden responded that Loh’s decision did not require any board votes because he never had been terminated by the board.