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Maryland Board of Regents will stay under the microscope after McNair death

University of Maryland students pause for a moment of silence during a "Justice for Jordan" rally in remembrance of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, on the steps of the university's administration building in College Park, Md. Maryland President Wallace Loh fired football head coach DJ Durkin Wednesday, about five months after McNair collapsed on a practice field and later died of heatstroke. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — More scrutiny is ahead for the Maryland Board of Regents after a week in which the University of Maryland’s football coach was fired, the school’s president announced he’d retire, and the board’s chairman announced he’d step down.

While Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan appointed 13 of the 17 members, he can’t fire them. Armand Alacbay, Vice President of Trustee and Government Affairs at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni said that’s not unusual. “The way that the board is comprised at Maryland is pretty typical.”

And while the Board of Regents is intended to have some independence, Alacbay said the governor is within his rights to call for added transparency. “I mean, after all, the Governor is responsible for the people whom he appoints” said Alacbay. “I think that Governor Hogan’s saying all the right things here, I mean he is respecting the autonomy of the institution, but at the same time making it clear that the board needs to operate in a transparent manner that facilitates the public trust.”

Rick Legon, President at the Association of Governing Boards, said politics is present in the current situation in College Park. Noting that the midterm elections are just days away, he said, “if you look at the calendar, you have to recognize that some heightened politics has intruded in this issue.”

As legislators in Annapolis indicate they’ll be holding hearings connected to how the board reacted to the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair and the fallout from that, another body will engage in some oversight.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education will be reviewing the university’s status.

“A university needs to maintain its accreditation in order to accept federal student aid dollars,” Alacbay said. But Alacbay said he believes it’s unlikely the school would lose its accreditation, adding, however, “anytime you hear the ‘a-word’ come up in higher ed, it’s serious business.”

Alacbay explained that accreditation is not really what people think it is, adding that it has “morphed from this whole guarantor of educational quality which is what I think what families assume it to be, to this sort of, one-size fits all regulator for higher ed.”

Brian Kirschner is a spokesman for the Middle States Commission. In an email to WTOP, he explained that in August, staff at the commission asked the university for a “supplemental information report” and that the commission will act on the report when it meets on Nov. 14 and 15.

When it comes to the long-term impact of the turmoil at the University of Maryland, Legon said one thing that can’t be forgotten is the fact that there was the tragic loss of life of a student.

“We’re dealing with a tragic situation but a wonderful institution,” said Legon. He predicts the university will remain one of the country’s premier research institutions.

“This issue will not be forgotten, but hopefully as tough as it sounds, they will use it to become even better. “


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