Back in 2012, this university announced its impending flight to the Big Ten from the ACC and weathered the ensuing firestorm. Detractors seized upon the Terrapins’ storied history in the ACC, the Big Ten’s potential lack of marquee rivals, the distance between College Park and most schools in the Midwestern conference, the $31 million conference exit fee — anything and everything they could hold up as evidence that the decision had been bungled.
These are good points, but let the record show that the athletic department has remained on track to pay back its eight-figure debt to the university and the Terps have won a host of conference titles since joining the Big Ten. Unsurprisingly, the average fan has long since given up on griping about the switch and settled in to enjoy the action.
Exit fee aside, the whole episode wrapped up rather neatly — save for a procedural scandal that might’ve seemed mild by comparison.
In fall 2012, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents held teleconferences twice in secret to address the planned conference move, one of which was the very same day university President Wallace Loh announced the move.
Months later, the state Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled that the Board of Regents violated state law “in multiple respects” by failing to notify the public of the special meetings, not documenting all those who participated and improperly closing the meetings.
The regents apologized in December, of course, in a cursory public statement that lacked much contrition and defended the private meetings as “proper subjects for closed-session discussions in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.”
After the Open Meetings Compliance Board’s decision, which carried no punishment beyond the administrative scolding, the system wrote in a statement that it had “revised its procedures to ensure transparency and compliance with all aspects of the Open Meetings Act.”
More than three years later, the Board of Regents now hopes to expand its right to meet in closed sessions with a state bill introduced last month.
The proposed legislation would permit the board to hold closed meetings to discuss honorary and philanthropic naming, gifts and donations, establishing and operating businesses or business entities and — wait for it — “any research, analysis, proposal, or plan relating to the competitive position of USM or a part of USM, as specified, if the board of regents determines that discussing it in open session could adversely affect the competitive position with respect to other education service providers.”
It’s hard to fathom a situation in which that last bit wouldn’t apply. Nearly every decision made by the board aims to increase the system’s competitiveness among rival schools, meaning that the bill effectively suggests the body could and should hold any and all meetings in private.
Given its existing reputation as a notoriously tight-lipped public institution, the system’s push for this legislation further clouds its mission to serve the state. It puts accountability on the back burner in favor of convenience and circumvents the court of public opinion, the rightful arena in which most — if not all — board discussions should be tried; as such, this editorial board condemns the proposed open meetings bill, a see-through attempt to limit transparency on behalf of a system that exists to serve the public.
Let’s just hope the state General Assembly sees through it as well.