Rumors beat new president to Towson U.

Speculation bubbles over sexual bias, cost of his residence

June 06, 2001|By Michael Hill and Mike Bowler | Michael Hill and Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

It's not exactly a welcome mat they are putting out for Mark L. Perkins at Towson University.

Instead, the man who will become the school's president next month is the subject of e-mail, anonymous letters and rumors that question his management skills and taste in real estate.

"I think there may be two or three folks who potentially want to put me in a nonpositive faction," said Perkins, who is chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay until July 1, when he will take over at Towson. "But I think people at Towson are smart enough that they can see through that."

Zooming through the campus via fax and e-mail, many of the communications have included an April article from the Green Bay News-Chronicle full of complaints against the Perkins administration, including sexual discrimination, from a retired university employee - though not a subsequent article that featured women administrators praising Perkins.

Others have focused on reports that Perkins wanted the University System of Maryland to buy him a $1 million house. "Apparently the University of Maryland System has approved building a mansion for Towson University's new president that has 200 parking spaces," read one anonymous mailing.

Perkins denied it all.

"The result of our work here is very clear," he said by phone from Green Bay. "We've increased the number of women in the faculty by 10 percent and replaced key administrators with 18 women - either in new positions or hired as replacements."

Perkins said he has no part in the house search. "The regents have chosen to have a president's home that will serve the campus and the president at Towson," he said. "That's their job, they do that stuff."

Some say this is the inevitable result of the controversial departure of Hoke Smith after 22 years as president. Many on campus think Smith was forced out by system Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg for standing up for Towson.

"The perception at Towson is that Langenberg effected Hoke's removal, and now the new fellow appears to be approved by Langenberg," said Richard Vatz, a communications professor at Towson for 27 years. "So the thinking is, `How in the world can he be any good if he's the choice of a man who was unfair to Hoke?'"

But Vatz said that any damage to Perkins is not necessarily permanent: "The selective release of information has hurt him. But it is easily surmountable if he comes in and treats everybody decently."

Jack Fruchtman, president of the university Senate, said the fact that there were no public forums with candidates during the search process hurt Perkins.

"We've never really seen him in context," said Fruchtman, a political science professor who was on the presidential search committee. "He's an unknown figure. So people feel positive about the future, but they are anxious."

Towson officials confirm that the school was prepared to bid $1.2 million on a mansion on Greenway in Guilford, but the plan was rejected by the system Board of Regents as too expensive.

"We think it's appropriate that Dr. Perkins has a house for the activities of fund raising and community involvement," said Nathan A. Chapman Jr., the regents chairman. "We set out parameters for the purchase."

One condition is that the house have parking for large dinner parties, said Francis Canavan, associate vice chancellor for communications. He said Perkins "is expected to do considerable work at home."

The university system maintains on-campus homes for presidents at three campuses and for the system chancellor. The other campus presidents get a housing allowance recently raised to $25,000 a year.

"It's important to have a place that looks impressive and where you can entertain," said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who lives in Owings Mills.

For much of his 22 years at Towson, Smith lived in an apartment in the Burkshire, a university-owned guest suite and conference center at the edge of the Towson campus.

"Hoke hasn't done a lot of entertaining," said Langenberg.

Fruchtman said that with Perkins on campus for only one day when his appointment was announced in February, those at the school have relied on profiles in The Sun and the student newspaper, the Towerlight - articles that mentioned that Perkins can step on some toes in getting his way.

"The campus only knows what it reads about him in the papers, and what people have read so far has made them anxious," Fruchtman said. "Mark Perkins is unknown to so many people, but maybe when they get to know him a little better, the anxiety will decrease as his personalty is such that it will be able to draw people in and allow them to know that he is someone with whom they can work."

Langenberg said he had noticed the negative gossip.

"It could just be the simple and rather unlovely human tendency to circulate gossip, including nasty gossip, whenever and wherever it's available," he said. "I don't think I've ever heard of a person in responsibility who isn't subject to nasty gossip from time to time."

Langenberg quickly added, "There's nothing on the record that would lead anyone to suspect any shadow in [Perkins'] character or to doubt his intentions toward Towson or anything else."

Fruchtman said the committee held a dozen meetings with school groups during its search.

"Mark Perkins fits the profile in terms of what they said they wanted - hard driving, out front, external, an outward kind of president to succeed Dr. Smith," Fruchtman said. "What they say now may be different."

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