Move to bar governors from universities' top job

Glendening maneuver to get chancellor post prompts GOP bill

March 02, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Spurred by ethical concerns over Gov. Parris N. Glendening's desire to run the state university system, some General Assembly members want to prevent governors from becoming the system's chancellor for up to two years after leaving office.

GOP legislators say they are backing a change in Maryland law to prevent an erosion of confidence in the state's universities.

After stating his interest in the $345,000-a-year chancellor's job in a national education publication, Glendening was forced to renounce his candidacy in December because of the swift outcry.

Donors threatened to rescind their contributions to the University of Maryland system, and ethics experts raised concerns.

The governor has appointed every member of the university system Board of Regents, which in turn appoints a chancellor. Critics said Glendening's hiring seemed a foregone conclusion and that with his name in the mix, other candidates would be scared away, leaving the former political science professor as the lone viable option.

Some members of the General Assembly say that no governor - neither Glendening nor a successor - should be allowed to become chancellor as long as two-thirds of the regents are his or her appointees, or for two years after leaving office, whichever comes first.

A bill requiring those conditions, co-sponsored by 27 GOP delegates, was heard this week by the House Appropriations Committee.

While a Maryland governor has never become chancellor, allowing such a move "would smack of cronyism," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the Howard County Republican. "It would taint the reputation of the system."

Said Del. Cheryl C. Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat: "Clearly, we're having trouble attracting strong candidates because of the perception that the deck is stacked.

"This bill should not be controversial. The governor should have no problem with this bill, if he really is not a candidate."

Glendening thinks the bill targets him and not a broader issue, and is unnecessary because he has withdrawn his name, said his spokesman, Michael Morrill. "It's a partisan issue," Morrill said. "It's aimed at him. We're not going to pretend otherwise."

The prospects of the legislation are uncertain, however. Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the Appropriations Committee said "it's an important issue to address for conflict of interest. But the subcommittee that would hear the bill will probably not want to embarrass the current governor and will take him on his word," that he no longer wants the job.

As lawmakers and witnesses discussed the merits of the bill this week, the hearing evolved into a debate over Glendening's qualifications for the job.

"He is the governor and a politician," said Flanagan. The regents are looking for a national leader on education policy, and Glendening "doesn't meet the criteria," he said.

"I disagree with you," countered Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard County Democrat. "People from faculty rise to become presidents of universities."

Others said Glendening is a polarizing figure who would be unable to woo large donations from wealthy benefactors, an important part of the chancellor's job.

Sun staff writer Alec MacGillis contributed to this article.

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