ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — As the 2018 death of a University of Maryland football player continues to reverberate in political and academic circles, Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation Tuesday to increase transparency in decision making by the state university system’s Board of Regents.
The new law will require the University System of Maryland board to livestream its open meetings online and to archive video of open meetings. It also adds four members to the 17-member board, and it will require vote tallies from meetings in publicly available meeting minutes. It also will require time for public comment before open meetings.
The university was shaken when offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke in June after a May workout. His death prompted investigations into the football team’s medical staff and its culture under coach DJ Durkin. Upheaval in leadership began when then-board chairman James Brady announced Durkin would keep his job last fall. Outcry from students, players and state politicians prompted university president Wallace Loh to fire Durkin, and Brady resigned.
“I think we had a lack of transparency and accountability in leadership, and that’s what led to a lot of these things,” said Sen. Sarah Elfreth, who sponsored the reform bill in the Senate.
The new law will require the chair of the board to be confirmed by the Senate.
Jonathan Allen, the student government president at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the campus community was shocked and confused about how the board made decisions. He provided input on the bill.
“You can’t really participate in the process without knowing what’s going on, and a big aspect about the decision making last year was that no one had known what was occurring at the meetings,” Allen said. “No one knew what the vote counts were. No one knew how the board ultimately came to their conclusions, and so when they announced the decision to retain coach Durkin and president Loh announced his retirement no one knew what led to those decisions.”
When Loh announced Durkin’s firing, he also announced he would retire in June 2019, but he has since said he will remain at the state’s flagship university through June 2020.
In addition to concerns about McNair’s death, lawmakers were spurred to action after The Associated Press reported that Chancellor Robert Caret promoted charm bracelets on behalf of Pandora Jewelry in a 2017 email to three university presidents outside of Maryland. Caret’s chief of staff at the time raised an ethics concern over the email, and later filed a grievance after Caret sent her a job performance review questioning her ability to continue as his chief of staff.
“We did, at the last minute when that came out, we did put some further provisions in the bill about needing to report out salary and changes in salary and financial disclosures and things like that,” Elfreth said. The provisions are similar to ones included in a separate bill to reform the board at University of Maryland Medical System. “So we kind of worked hand-in-hand on the two bills to make sure that we’re holding all of our public boards accountable to the public.”
The new law will require the board to review annual financial disclosure statements filed by the chancellor and the presidents of Maryland’s public colleges and universities. The board will be required to notify the governor and the presiding officers of the General Assembly at least 30 days before a contractual salary increase, a negotiated severance package or any other financial bonus for the chancellor goes into effect. Elfreth said the provisions were added to the legislation after the report on the chancellor and the email became public.
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