Governor's interest could chill UM search

Potential candidacy for chancellor's post may limit applicants

October 29, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

As it enters a critical stage, the search for the next head of the University System of Maryland is burdened by a perception that Gov. Parris N. Glendening is a favored candidate for the $345,000- a-year job.

Higher-education experts and recruitment consultants say speculation about the governor's interest is spreading into the national pool of university administrators who would be qualified for the post -- with negative consequences.

"I've been asked to suggest names [of candidates], and I've been reluctant because I don't want to suggest anybody out of concern that it's a done deal," said C. Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Although he's not currently an applicant to be the system's next chancellor, Glendening has not ruled out seeking the job. He has said that a higher education post would be one of his top choices after leaving office, along with an environmental position. As governor, he has appointed or reappointed every current member of the state Board of Regents, the body that will chose the chancellor.

Michael Morrill, the governor's communications director, said Glendening will begin to examine options after the legislative session ends in April -- shortly before Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg is due to resign, but three months after the regents hope to name a new leader. Glendening is entering the final year of his second term and cannot seek re-election.

"He has not made a decision on what to pursue yet," Morrill said. "He has not opened any doors yet, but he has not closed any, either, and I'm not going to do that for him."

Leaving the door open, it seems, will affect the search just as advertisements for the position start to appear.

At best, experts say, the regents and their consultant face a chore convincing leading applicants they stand a fair chance at getting the job.

At worst, today's political scuttlebutt could turn into tomorrow's self-fulfilling prophecy if quality competition evaporates and leaves Glendening as the best available candidate.

`Scare away' candidates

"Yes, it is out there. I'm not even a Maryland resident, and I've heard it," said Theodore J. Marchese, a managing director with Academic Search Consultation Service in Washington, which is not directly involved in the Maryland process. "It will scare away other candidacies. No question about it."

Academic recruiters and others say leading university administrators are reluctant to apply for jobs if their chances are poor. Names of finalists inevitably become public, potentially damaging their reputations at their home institutions.

"The higher the level, the more someone has to lose in coming forward openly," said Judith A. Auerbach of Auerbach Associates, a Boston search consulting firm. "They want to protect their existing position."

But the regents insist that the search process is inclusive and open.

They say an 18-member search committee -- including five regents as well as business executives and university faculty members and administrators -- was designed to ensure fairness.

The committee is working from a 17-page description of an ideal leader and has hired a nationally known search consultant. R. William Funk of Korn/Ferry International in Dallas is being paid $90,000 to solicit and screen applicants. The search committee hopes to name a chancellor by Dec. 31 -- an aggressive timetable that some feel is unrealistic.

Advertisements in the Chronicle of Higher Education and other journals will begin to run this week, with an early December deadline for application materials.

`Deck is not stacked'

"There's been a lot of talk about the governor being a potential candidate, but I can tell you definitively that, to use your phrase, the deck is not stacked," said William T. Wood, an attorney who is on the Board of Regents.

"If he chooses to apply, he'll go through the process like all other candidates," Wood said. "If you look at the composition of the search committee, you will come away with the inescapable conclusion that it is a fair committee."

Other regents say privately that Glendening would not be their first choice for the job, and some say that the governor's interest may be overstated.

"Persons close to the governor feel that he really doesn't want this and would rather have other opportunities, " said former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, another regent.

Glendening has focused on anti-sprawl initiatives, and some believe the governor would prefer a job at the helm of a national or international foundation that advances Smart Growth or conservation policies.

Magrath, Marchese and others note that as a former professor with a long career in public service, Glendening is no doubt qualified for the chancellorship. If he does apply, he'd immediately become a leading candidate -- for both political and professional reasons.

Ties to each regent

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