Ghost candidate haunts search for a chancellor

February 24, 2002|By C. Fraser Smith

ONE WAY or another, Gov. Parris N. Glendening remains a candidate for chancellor of the University of Maryland system.

He pulled out more than two months ago, but a ghost candidacy remains an obstacle in the national search - deliberately, some would say. If he's in the race, this reasoning goes, the field will be slim. Mr. Glendening could then become the compromise winner.

His interest - and his allies on the Board of Regents - keep him very much a factor.

Anyone surprised?

"His candidacy won't die until you drive a stake through its heart," said one of the doubters when Mr. Glendening first demurred.

Time to get out the stake.

The governor withdrew when a member of the regents threatened to hold a news conference to oppose him. At the same time, several financial contributors promised to take back money they were giving to College Park if he persisted.

Brazen as it may seem, Mr. Glendening remains in the mix. Recognizing this, some members of the regents want to make a Shermanesque declaration of non-candidacy on his behalf, attempting to reassure the field of potential applicants.

That declaration hasn't come and may not. One member of the regents' Glendening caucus apparently would like to go in the other direction entirely: drop all pretense of a search and award the job to the governor effective the moment he leaves the governor's mansion.

Soon it won't matter what the regents say. If you have to keep protesting, it probably means the guy's got a signed contract.

When he announced active interest last year during an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mr. Glendening said he has a passion for higher education. Unfortunately, he may have planted a kiss of death on the state's higher education image.

We're told the run of applications isn't what the regents expected. A prospect from a Midwestern university reportedly dropped out of the hunt last week. Did he see a ghost?

What, other than Mr. Glendening, accounts for this disappointing situation? You'd think the Maryland job would be attractive. It pays $345,000 a year. It comes with a mansion. A car, a driver and other fringes are part of the deal. Someone could make a name for himself or herself because this state's system eventually will be credited with the high status it has achieved in some important areas from the arts to the sciences.

If matters were not unsettling enough, Nathan A. Chapman Jr., the regents' chairman and a Glendening ally, finds himself under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. His company recently lost a contract to manage $175 million in state pension funds.

Already unhappy with Mr. Chapman's performance, the pension board acted after the SEC's counsel recounted allegations that a fund manager chosen by the firm had invested state pension money in stock of its parent company, eChapman.com. Trustees were told by their lawyer that the pension fund might have unknowingly paid more than the market rate for the stock.

"This doesn't pass the smell test," one trustee told The Sun.

The governor appointed Mr. Chapman and, many believe, helped him get and keep the pension business. How independent will he be if the governor's application comes to a vote?

The regents, all of whom were appointed by Mr. Glendening, will select a chancellor from among those applicants brave enough to compete with a sitting governor or his ghost. Academic administrators, more political than an old East Baltimore clubhouse boss, have no trouble understanding the setup: It's no use applying for a job that isn't open.

One wishes to avoid prejudging the regents. Some of them apparently are furious at the current state of affairs. But others argue that the soon-to-be former governor would bring impressive qualifications to the post of chancellor: He's been a university professor. He's written political science books. He's been an administrator. He knows politics.

This is all true and, also, beside the point. Mr. Glendening is a non-starter if Maryland wants the same respect academically it now gets in football and basketball.

The chancellor should be a symbol of the state's quest for excellence. How long would it take for the state to regain the momentum it will lose if this job gets politicized?

If it's a sinecure to be handed out to retiring governors, then the university system will look like a patronage pool. If that's the vision, a very political governor would be an ideal candidate.

If not, it's time to get out the stake.

C. Fraser Smith is an editorial writer for The Sun.

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