The University System of Maryland Board of Regents announced last week that it has commissioned an independent review of its governance structure and operation, the first in more than 20 years.
The purpose of the review is to “better understand how the board’s culture, policies, processes and practices currently work to enable it to serve Maryland, its public university system, the system’s 12 institutions, and its students, faculty and staff,” according to a system press release.
Such a review hasn’t been undertaken since 1998, a decade after the system’s formation. It will be led by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, a higher education organization that looks at education boards across the country to evaluate procedures and provide counsel to their leaders.
When the review is complete, a committee led by Patricia Florestano — a former chair of the board — will evaluate the report and provide feedback to the board.
Ultimately, Florestano said, the board will make the decision of whether to adopt the report’s recommendations.
“We will be another voice, we will take a look at the report based on the experience that we all have, we’ll say, ‘Hey this really sounds good,’ or ‘No, I’m not sure you want to try that,’” she said.
Other members of the committee include William “Brit” Kirwan, a former president of this university and former chancellor of the system; Norm Augustine, a former regent; Rushern Baker, former Prince George’s County executive; Molly Broad, the former president of the University of North Carolina; and Calvin Butler, CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric.
While Florestano said she doesn’t know exactly what the AGB’s review will entail, she said similar reviews often include interviews with board members and those who work closely with the board, faculty that report to the board and the student government president to determine what works and what doesn’t in the current structure.
“All we want is to see this work better, and that’s what we’re all about,” Florestano said. “If we think this AGB recommendation is a move in that direction, then we will support them, and if we don’t, then we will make our comment.”
The regents have faced widespread criticism for their handling of the Maryland football scandal and its fallout.
In the months following offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death, the university launched two investigations — one into the circumstances of the workout where he suffered heatstroke and another into the program’s broader culture and allegations of abuse.
The board — whose members are appointed by the governor and set policy for the system’s 12 member institutions — subsequently took control of both investigations.
The first investigation, which concluded in September, found that trainers failed to recognize that McNair had heatstroke and botched his treatment. But the regents recommended that the university keep the trainers on staff, and the university didn’t cut ties with them until November.
In its final report on the second investigation, the board highlighted widespread abuse in the football program but disputed the notion that it was “toxic.” Regents chair James Brady recommended at an Oct. 30 press conference that head football coach DJ Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans keep their jobs, only for the university to fire Durkin a day later.
At the same Oct. 30 press conference, university President Wallace Loh announced he’d retire in June. But the regents didn’t name anyone to the search committee for his successor until the end of January, when it was announced that Loh will remain in his role for an extra year.
Florestano said she reached out to Gooden “after the first bad news hit the paper” to offer her assistance.
Gooden said in the press release that she has worked to “increase the transparency of the board’s work” and to oversee the system in “ways that best support our students.”
“Regardless of other circumstances, and after two decades without a review, good governance demands that we examine best practices for 21st century governing boards and assess the current governance structure to determine if changes are needed to improve governance,” Gooden said in the statement.
Student Government Association president Jonathan Allen, who has publicly criticized the board’s lack of transparency in handling the search for Loh’s successor, challenged the lack of student representation on the review commission.
“We should support people in the way they want to be supported, not in the way we think they want to be supported,” Allen said. “I don’t know how [the commission] will be able to reach a conclusion that would satisfy my constituents — the students — and those students across the system without speaking directly to them.”
Allen also questioned the independence of the committee, which includes a former system chancellor and two former board members.
“I feel like it will be hard for them to be critical,” he said. “It’s like having me do a governance review of the Student Government Association next year when I graduate.”
Florestano said she would like to see the board tighten up its procedures, be more transparent and work with people “fairly and openly.” Florestano said the most successful boards remain behind the scenes.
“Hiring and firing people on a campus is generally not a board’s role,” she said.
Florestano said she did not agree with how the board handled its recommendation to retain coach DJ Durkin, which she said made it appear as though they were directing the university’s personnel decisions.
“I thought that was the wrong way for the board to go, because that is the president’s decision,” she said. “Generally, if you do your job, and you’re doing it right, it’s not big news.”