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USM regents to hold final meeting before oversight rules take effect

University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert Caret, left, and Board Chair Linda Gooden appear at a legislative hearing in 2018 in Annapolis. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert Caret, left, and Board of Regents Chair Linda Gooden appear at a legislative hearing in 2018 in Annapolis. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Friday’s meeting of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents marks the last time it is scheduled to meet before a new oversight law takes effect next month, though some measures could take up to a year to implement.

The law, designed to increase transparency and oversight for the board that oversees most of the state’s public universities, arose out of the fallout from the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair.

The law expands 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 livestreaming of meetings, a public tallying of votes and a period for public comment at each meeting.

Linda Gooden, chair of the Board of Regents, publicly supported the legislation.

Because Friday is the last meeting of the board scheduled, it will be the last one before the new law takes effect July 1.

In some cases, the board has to wait for others to act to come into compliance with the law, like waiting for the appointment of new members by legislative leaders.

It will also likely be a year before the second student regent becomes a part of the board. That position is typically chosen by the governor from a list of names compiled by the University System of Maryland Student Council and sent to the governor through the system’s chancellor. That pick has to be approved by the state Senate.

The system can begin to implement some of the other changes, like livestreaming and public comment periods.

It plans to video livestream its regularly scheduled board meetings next year using technology already present at the universities where the meetings are held.

The board rotates its meetings among its campuses and typically has its June meeting at one of the furthermost campuses. Tomorrow’s meeting is at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science campus in Cambridge. Last year’s June meeting was at Salisbury University.

But the system will not stream other meetings, including committee meetings and the unscheduled meetings that happen as the board responds to events.

This year the board held 15 special meetings. The board held seven regularly scheduled meetings.

The board should try to stream more than just those scheduled meetings, said Joanne Antoine, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland.

“They should be trying to stream committee meetings,” she said. “Anything available to the public should continue to be.”

It was McNair’s death and the board’s response to his death that led to the passage of the oversight law.

The board led investigations into McNair’s death and the football team’s culture. The fallout from those investigations led to questions about the board’s commitment to shared governance on campus and to a backlash from legislators and the university community. There were also criticisms of the transparency with which the board made its decisions.

The board’s closed-door meetings are not uncommon in Maryland, Antoine said.

“The way that the USM is functioning, this isn’t out of the norm,” she said. “We’re finding that the very discussions that we should be having in public, that the open meetings act was meant to make available to us, that they are finding loopholes and ways around that.”

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