How UM can re­cover Our view:

The fir­ing of the foot­ball coach and res­ig­na­tion of the re­gents chair­man have helped stem the bleed­ing, but more needs to be done to re­store con­fi­dence

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

Big donors are threat­en­ing to bring the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land’s $1.5 bil­lion fundrais­ing cam­paign to a halt. Fac­ulty and deans are wor­ried about the fu­ture of aca­demic free­dom on cam­pus. Stu­dents are protest­ing. An “al­ter­ca­tion” be­tween mem­bers of the foot­ball team broke out at prac­tice. And that may prove only the begin­ning of the dam­age wrought by the Uni­ver­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land’s Board of Re­gents’ de­ci­sions this week that led to the brief re­in­state­ment of foot­ball coach DJ Durkin de­spite the death last spring of of­fen­sive line­man Jor­dan Mc­Nair and the an­nounced re­tire­ment of UM Pres­i­dent Wal­lace Loh. The stun­ning news Wed­nes­day that Mr. Loh had de­cided to fire Mr. Durkin any­way and the res­ig­na­tion Thurs­day of Uni­ver­sity Sys­tem of Mary­land Board of Re­gents Chair­man James Brady may have stemmed the bleed­ing, but we are still a long way from restor­ing the school’s rep­u­ta­tion or pub­lic trust in the gov­er­nance of Mary­land’s sys­tem of pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties.

The heart of this story is a tragedy — the com­pletely avoid­able death of a young man. Mr. Durkin’s fir­ing doesn’t com­pen­sate for a team cul­ture in which Mc­Nair was pushed to the point of heat stroke or a dys­func­tional ath­letic depart­ment that wasn’t pre­pared to re­spond to his col­lapse. And this week’s events in­di­cate that the prob­lems at Col­lege Park ex­tend far be­yond the ath­letic depart­ment. The re­gents’ ac­tions sent a mes­sage to the coun­try that all the ef­fort and in­vest­ment that has been poured into el­e­vat­ing the Mary­land into the top ranks of pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties was a sham and that those gov­ern­ing the sys­tem ex­hibit a pro­found moral bank­ruptcy. Fix­ing that now be­comes the top pri­or­ity of Mary­land’s lead­ers. Here’s what we need to do:

Mr. Brady’s res­ig­na­tion was an im­por­tant sym­bolic step, but it does not erase the stain on the re­gents. The re­main­ing mem­bers of the board, all 16 of them, need to ex­plain how they voted in the mat­ter of Mr. Durkin and why. We know the vote was not unan­i­mous. Those who ob­jected pri­vately need to do so pub­licly. We need to know that there are peo­ple with a mod­icum of com­mon sense run­ning our uni­ver­sity sys­tem. And those who ad­vo­cated for the de­ci­sion (other than Mr. Brady, who has been vol­u­ble on the mat­ter) need to make clear whether they rec­og­nize that they just made an abom­inable mis­take and to ex­plain how they came to it. We sus­pect that af­ter the near uni­ver­sal con­dem­na­tion of the Durkin de­ci­sion, there are oth­ers on the board who must now re­al­ize that they have failed in their duty to safe­guard the Uni­ver­sity Sys­tem and do not rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests, views and pri­or­i­ties of the state. Any­one who con­tin­ues to be­lieve the board did the right thing should now re­sign as well.

The re­gents need to heed the call of the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Col­lege Park Foun­da­tion and make a pub­lic state­ment reaf­firm­ing the prin­ci­ple “that the gov­ern­ing body’s role is lim­ited to set­ting pol­icy, ap­point­ing a pres­i­dent and hold­ing him/her ac­count­able, and that pres­i­dents have full author­ity to man­age their in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing per­son­nel de­ci­sions.” Without that, we will have dif­fi­culty re­cruit­ing qual­ity pres­i­dents or lower-level staff.

The Uni­ver­sity Sys­tem also needs to con­sider the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the re­gents and the ath­let­ics depart­ment at Col­lege Park. Is the VIP treat­ment they get at games breed­ing an un­healthy close­ness to that school's sports pro­gram? More broadly, are the re­gents’ too Col­lege Park-cen­tric? At least seven of the 17 mem­bers are UM alumni.

Fi­nally, we need fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion of Mr. Loh’s fu­ture at Col­lege Park. Out­side of the Mc­Nair fam­ily, he emerged as the most sym­pa­thetic fig­ure in this drama, but he bears ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for an ath­let­ics depart­ment riven by in­fight­ing, poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion and, by some ac­counts of the foot­ball team, a cul­ture of bul­ly­ing and in­tim­i­da­tion. As Gov­er­nor Ho­gan ob­served Thurs­day, Mr. Loh could have fired Mr. Durkin months ago but did not. Why? Mr. Loh was also a driv­ing force be­hind the uni­ver­sity’s move from the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence to the Big 10, a move that may have had its most pro­found im­pact on the foot­ball team. Was that the right de­ci­sion, and did he do what was nec­es­sary to pre­pare the ath­let­ics depart­ment for the change? We need an open, trans­par­ent process to de­ter­mine whether he should stay or go.

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