Picking a chancellor

University of Maryland: Search panel must not let politics interfere with selecting best candidate.

May 21, 2001

MARYLAND'S university system is approaching a critical juncture. A wrong move by the group looking for the next chancellor of the University System of Maryland could prove disastrous.

Members' goal must be to find the best academic leader and avoid entangling the university in political controversy. The group's task is complicated by the unusual nature of the chancellor's job. Under reforms instituted two years ago, the chancellor no longer is the all-powerful force within the university system. Instead, campus presidents wield most of the clout.

Donald N. Langenberg, the current chancellor who is being forced to retire in April, has adjusted to this reversal of fortunes and worked diligently as a coordinator rather than an authoritarian CEO.

That's how his successor must view the job, too. This post isn't for kingmakers or empire-builders. It should not be a sinecure for retiring politicians, either. Ideally, the search committee should look for candidates with vast university administrative experience.

It's critical that the next chancellor understand the secondary role he or she will play in unifying higher-education personalities and building support for the university. This isn't a power post in the traditional sense.

It will require a diplomat, steeped in the complexities of academic governance. The role of chancellor requires intricate consensus-building involving campus presidents, the Board of Regents, the Maryland Higher Education Commission and lawmakers.

Fortunately, retired Adm. Charles R. Larson was named vice chairman of the search committee. Not only is he vice chairman of the regents but he led the commission that recommended decentralizing the University of Maryland.

He must ensure that those reforms are advanced, not reversed, by the choice of a new chancellor.

Since the Larson commission's changes were adopted, the university's campuses have flourished. Some are on the threshold of major leaps forward. That's why it's so critical that Mr. Langenberg's successor be a facilitator and coordinator who will complement, not overshadow, campus presidents.

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