Senate, House weigh bills changing Board of Regents makeup

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Then-chair of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents James T. Brady announces the board’s recommendation to retain former Maryland football coach DJ Durkin on Oct. 30, 2018, in Baltimore. (Daniel Oyefusi/Capital News Service)

By Daniel Oyefusi
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — The University System of Maryland Board of Regents structure would be altered and its decision-making would be made more public under legislation the state Senate and House of Delegates are considering.

The two identical bills would make several changes to the composition of the board. It would add four members; the Senate President and speaker of the House would appoint one each, the state secretary of commerce would join as an ex-officio member, and a second student member would be added. One student member would be allotted one vote for one year.

The board’s meetings would be live-streamed and an archive would be made available to the public.

Del. Ben Barnes (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties) sponsored the House bill and Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel County) sponsored the Senate bill.

Elfreth, who served on the Board of Regents as a student member, called the bill a “healthy review of a state organization.”

There are 17 members of the board. Sixteen are appointed by the governor to five-year terms and the student member serves a one-year term.

The measures are reasonable steps to add diversity to the board and keep the fundamental structure of the panel in place, Barnes said.

The bill would also open up the board’s decision making to the public, forcing it to make public all votes from open and closed meetings, as well as votes from any sessions relating to the employment or termination of university presidents.

The introduction of these bills comes months after the board received criticism for its handling of an investigation into the University of Maryland football program following the death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair.

McNair died in June after suffering heatstroke at an offseason workout. His death sparked two investigations–both of which the board oversaw–into the football team’s medical staff and its culture under head coach DJ Durkin.

After a months-long investigation, the board recommended in October that the university retain Durkin, despite reports that University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh wanted to dismiss the coach.

The board met in a closed session the week before announcing its decision.

At the news conference, Loh announced he would retire in June 2019. And after widespread backlash from fans, alumni and even Gov. Larry Hogan (R), he fired Durkin one day later.

The board announced in January that Loh will continue to serve as president through June 2020, and a search committee would be assembled to select his successor.

Regents Chair James T. Brady also resigned following the saga, saying, “my continued presence on the board will inhibit its ability to move Maryland’s higher education agenda forward.”

Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties), co-sponsor of the Senate bill and a former regent, said he has kept in contact with the board since the fallout.

He acknowledged the board made a “big mistake,” but said it recognized its misstep and took action to fix it. Rosapepe said he was unsure whether there would be any pushback to the legislation at next week’s hearings, but called the changes “modest.”

A House committee is set to meet on Tuesday to discuss House Bill 533, while a Senate committee would meet on Wednesday for Senate Bill 719.

This isn’t the sole piece of legislation to be proposed as a result of the debacle at College Park. The House of Delegates introduced a bill, sponsored by Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore) which would allow student-athletes to unionize. A hearing for that bill is scheduled for March 1.



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