U.Md. president due for performance review from board pushing him out

WASHINGTON — It’s that time of year when nerves run high around annual performance reviews — but for a certain area university president, things could get particularly awkward.

The University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents will meet with University of Maryland President Wallace Loh in College Park, Maryland, on Friday for a review.

The sit-down will happen during a closed session of the board’s standard monthly meeting — with the backdrop that some of the board’s members were instrumental in Loh’s decision to retire earlier this year.

Scandal in the athletic department has garnered the most attention lately, but it’s not the only problem the school has been getting criticism over.

Parents have continued to question the school’s handling of an outbreak of mold in one of the school’s dormitories at the start of this semester. Last month, student Olivia Paregol, who lived in one of the affected dorms, died after later contracting adenovirus.

Paregol had been taking an immune system suppressing drug to treat Crohn’s disease. She is among the nearly three dozen students to test positive for the virus this semester.

“I don’t know if the mold was a contributing factor, or a primary factor, or a non-factor” her father, Ian Paregol, said last month. He said his daughter was one of the first students to report the mold outbreak in College Park’s Elkton Hall, and that she began showing symptoms of an illness soon after arriving on campus.

“It seems to me more should have been done and more information should have been provided,” he said, after his daughter’s passing. The school has said there’s no connection between mold and adenovirus. Last week, it announced a deep cleaning of frequently-touched surfaces inside campus dorms will take place next month while students are away for winter break.

“The cleanup subterfuge is way too little, and way too late,” Ian Paregol told WTOP earlier this week. “They knew of the first adenovirus case six weeks ago on Nov. 1, and they aren’t cleaning until January. It’s time they come clean and admit they have failed at a number of levels.”

There’s also been a strong show of support for Loh from both state lawmakers, and Maryland’s representation in D.C. Some of them, including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, have urged Loh to reconsider his resignation, set to take effect on June 13, 2019.

Their arguments tend to focus on the number of new academic buildings and the overall economic redevelopment along the Route 1 corridor and near the College Park Metro station, highlighted by the Brandon Iribe Center under construction near the entrance to campus.

“All of those initiatives came from the city [of College Park]” state Sen. Jim Rosapepe told graduate students earlier this month, regarding a building boom along the Route 1 corridor. “The only reason they happened was because President Loh committed this university to a partnership with the community.”

Loh has also garnered praise from politicians, sports pundits, and even student leaders for his decision to buck the Board of Regents and fire football coach DJ Durkin in October, after the board initially recommended Durkin be retained following the death of football player Jordan McNair.

But the death of McNair also prompted a much deeper investigation into the football program’s culture, which revealed severe dysfunction throughout the school’s athletic department — starting at the top.

A subsequent report pinned some of the blame for the department’s dysfunction on Loh for his management of athletic department leaders he had hired and supervised.

Outside of athletics, his strongest supporters, including Democratic lawmakers serving in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill, describe Loh as a successful leader who bolstered the university’s academic vision.

But some longtime donors of the school who are critical of Loh instead point to US News and World Report rankings, where the school has been slipping as of late.

This year, U. Md. College Park ranked 63rd overall in US News’ list, 22nd among public colleges in the country — a steady erosion from where the school stood a decade ago, when it ranked just outside the top 50 colleges overall and was among the top 20 public colleges in the country.

Only once in the last six years has the school been ranked inside the top-60.

In addition, the campus has seen a growing number of hate-bias incidents. Cases of anti-Semitic and racist harassment have been reported by students in recent years, prompting some concern from minority students about safety and the school’s commitment to a diverse and welcoming atmosphere.

The university recently hired a hate-bias response coordinator to better respond to those issues. The school’s chief diversity officer quit earlier this year, criticizing leaders for hindering his ability to do his job. Earlier this year, the Baltimore Sun reported that enrollment among black students is on the decline.

While Loh has been seeing support from politicians wanting him to reconsider his pending retirement, it’s currently unclear if enough members on the Board of Regents share that viewpoint. The search for Loh’s successor will be one topic discussed at Friday’s meeting.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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