Chancellor a difficult job to fill

$345,000 position open at UM, but some may not apply

Fringe benefit: a mansion

Even with governor out of the running, search goes slowly

January 27, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Nearly two months after Gov. Parris N. Glendening withdrew his candidacy for state universities chancellor, suspicion that he could still be considered for the $345,000 position is casting a shadow over the nationwide search, say several people close to the selection process.

This week, the committee that is screening candidates for the university system's Board of Regents will hold its first meeting since Glendening's withdrawal Dec. 5, sources close to the search say.

While the committee has received new applications since Glendening took himself out of the running, some potential candidates are hanging back because they suspect the governor isn't completely out of the picture, said James L. Fisher, a higher education consultant who is not involved in the search.

"Others are wary of a candidacy because of the fear that the governor could come out again," said Fisher, a former Towson University president whose consulting firm conducts presidential searches for colleges. "The fear is he's not out of it because of the people on the [Board of Regents] who are strong allies of his."

Some potential candidates speculate that the Board of Regents could approach Glendening at the end of its search and ask him to reconsider his withdrawal, on the grounds that it thinks he is better suited for the job than anyone who applied, Fisher and others said.

One regent, who asked not to be named, predicted Glendening could still win a majority of the 17-member board if a vote were held today.

"A draft is a possibility -- pressuring [Glendening] to rescind his original decision and agree to accept because of the leadership he could provide to the higher education system of the state of Maryland," Fisher said. "And once that kind of [talk] gets out, it's hard to squelch."

On Friday, Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill dismissed speculation that the governor might still be interested in succeeding Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg, who is retiring April 30.

"The governor has been very clear that he withdrew his name from consideration last December," said Morrill. Asked if the governor was plotting a back-door candidacy, Morrill said: "He is not pursuing the job."

Board of Regents Chairman Nathan A. Chapman Jr. declined Friday to address the prospect of a last-minute drafting of Glendening, saying that such a scenario was purely "hypothetical."

"It's sort of hard to respond to things that haven't happened," said Chapman. "He's withdrawn from the process, and we've accepted it. His name is not under consideration."

Glendening took himself out of the running shortly after indicating his interest in the job in a national education journal.

His withdrawal came after lawmakers, ethicists, and some major university system donors said it was inappropriate for the governor to seek a job selected by the regents, all of whom he appointed or reappointed. Critics also contended his candidacy was scaring away high-quality applicants, who assumed he had a lock on the job.

Skittish candidates

Despite the governor's withdrawal and continued denial of interest, some education experts say that potential candidates are still wary of applying.

Many higher education executives are so worried about the risk of being discovered angling for a new job, they said, that the slightest chance of a re-entry by the governor could be enough to discourage them from applying.

Chapman, a Glendening ally who is also chairman of the screening committee, said Friday that interest in the position has picked up since Glendening dropped out, but declined to say how many applications the committee has received.

"We are moving forward. We have gotten good people to indicate they are interested, and we are continuing to measure and gauge that interest," Chapman said.

William Funk, the Dallas-based consultant advising the screening committee, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

With two months elapsed since the last meeting of the screening committee, some regents have voiced concerns in private about the pace of the search. After Glendening withdrew his name, the regents gave themselves until the start of the school year in September to install a new chancellor, saying they would appoint an interim chancellor if they had not hired a replacement by April 30.

But national executive search consultants note that it is in the regents' interest to name the new chancellor by spring, to give their selection sufficient time to give notice to his or her current employer.

"I don't know if I would want the person" who waited until summer to announce that he or she would be gone in September, said Boston-based search consultant Judith A. Auerbach.

Chapman said the screening committee was doing its best to work with the "candidates' availability and their desire to work with the process." There is no set deadline for recommending finalists to the full Board of Regents, the chairman added.

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