Frostburg chief cites 'witch hunt' in stepping down

December 07, 1990|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent

FROSTBURG -- The president of Frostburg State University announced his intention to resign yesterday under the weight of public criticism about his handling of a campus foundation account.

Herb F. Reinhard Jr. termed the accusations against him a "witch hunt and an attempt at character assassination" and said he would be vindicated by internal auditors of the University of Maryland System.

He said he was resigning after 4 1/2 years in office because he and his family were tired of the "garbage."

The entire matter, he said in a statement he read to the news media and faculty leaders yesterday, had from the beginning "an atmosphere of guilt before innocence, as well as one of mistrust and suspicion, and that kind of atmosphere, in my opinion, is frightening."

Dr. Reinhard, speaking calmly and accompanied by staff members, said he hoped the citizens of Maryland would carefully review the results of various investigations and "judge for themselves the questions of morals, ethics and intent."

His resignation comes seven weeks after the Cumberland Times-News first reported that he used funds from a non-profit campus account to buy tickets to political events.

Political contributions by tax-exempt, non-profit groups are barred by federal law.

Thereafter, the president asked auditors to inspect the books of the non-profit foundation. The matter widened as other universities admitted making such contributions, and several state lawmakers called for a more detailed public accounting of foundation spending.

Dr. Reinhard, in his statement, blamed the newspaper for "keeping the controversy alive with front-page articles, letters to the editor and continued investigations, even of such matters as chocolate dessert medallions" that capped a recent dinner for Gov. William Donald Schaefer on campus.

At the dinner, the governor received the school's highest award, an honorary degree. In his remarks, he praised Dr. Reinhard as a "visionary" who had accomplished much during his tenure.

University of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said he accepted Dr. Reinhard's resignation "with regret."

"He was not urged to resign by system officials, nor does a just-completed internal audit compel such a decision," the chancellor said. He said he could not make public that audit until the regents review it.

Dr. Langenberg praised the president for a tenure that saw "very considerable progress" in numerous areas at Frostburg.

Despite the successes, Dr. Reinhard in recent weeks found himself subject to mounting criticism from the faculty, students and lawmakers, particularly when it became known that he continued buying tickets to political events after being warned by a foundation lawyer that it endangered the tax-exempt status of the university's fund-raising arm.

In addition, he was roundly criticized by faculty members and lawmakers for transferring a $10,000 estate gift from a veteran local school teacher to his own discretionary account.

The money came to the university as an unrestricted gift in lieu of stocks that had been willed to the campus for scholarships but sold before the donor died.

Dr. Reinhard initially denied making the political contributions. Later, he defended his actions, saying he had acted only to promote his campus at various political and civic events.

And he blamed others for putting the estate gift in his discretionary account, saying he did not know the donor's original intent. These statements were refuted by several of those involved, including the Frostburg attorney who investigated the matter and urged the foundation to set up a scholarship in the donor's name.

His handling of the money led one of the university's largest donors, a faculty member, to threaten withdrawal of his scholarship fund from the foundation and to call for the president's resignation.

And although the faculty had adopted a "wait and see" attitude, rejecting an early motion for censure, students were not so patient.

"The longer you and the administrators involved try to manipulate the media and the facts, the more of an adverse impact you are creating for the university," 13 students wrote the president in a letter dated Nov. 13.

In recent weeks, Dr. Reinhard agreed to meet with both faculty members and students.

He decided to resign Wednesday, he said, after attending a meeting of the faculty senate and hearing a faculty member question his intent involving the controversial decisions.

Dr. Reinhard said he would remain in office until Jan. 20 and take earned leave through June 30, 1991, the official date of his resignation.

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