Towson U. president steps down

In furor over spending, Perkins says regents told him to quit or be fired

April 09, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Mark L. Perkins announced his resignation as president of Towson University yesterday under increasing pressure over the school's spending on its new presidential mansion - now estimated at nearly $2 million - and on Perkins' inauguration one month ago.

In a six-page letter released yesterday morning, Perkins said he was resigning after less than a year in office because members of the state university system's Board of Regents told him Friday that he would be fired if he didn't step down.

"It is from this premise and with a heavy heart that I have decided to resign," he stated in the letter. "These have been the grandest nine months of my professional life."

His letter included an explanation of Towson's expenditures on the house and inauguration, which featured a $25,000 gold medallion made for the occasion and worn by Perkins.

"As President, I take full responsibility and accept accountability for all of the controversy involving the house, the inauguration, and the university medallion," Perkins said in his letter. "I made decisions that I thought were in the best interests of the university, as part of my sole goal of moving Towson forward to join the ranks of the very best universities."

As of last night, the regents had not named an interim replacement for Perkins, 52, whose whereabouts were unknown yesterday. Under Towson policies, the provost serves as leader when the president is not on campus, but it was unclear whether Provost Dan Jones was in charge, officials said.

In a brief statement, regents Chairman Nathan A. Chapman Jr. said the board, which has its next meeting Friday, "intends to move expeditiously to address the leadership needs of Towson University."

Among potential candidates mentioned by higher education leaders yesterday as a successor was Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who expressed interest last fall in the university system chancellorship.

During a brief interview last night, Glendening said "I don't comment on my future career, other than to say I'll be a very strong voice on higher education and the environment."

Perkins' resignation stunned the 16,000-student campus, which learned only three days before that the regents were considering disciplinary action against Perkins, who assumed the $208,000 job in July after eight years at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Only last month, Glendening told Perkins at his inauguration that "we will support you in your quest to make Towson one of the best universities in the nation."

For many, the resignation was yet another setback to a university that has long complained of a lack of support and respect from regents and state leaders.

"We're kind of like a child without a father," said student government senator Troy Hopper, a junior from Baltimore. "This is just another misstep that shortchanges how positive we are as a university."

Norma Holter, an accounting professor and president of the faculty senate, said she has been deluged by e-mail from faculty who are "appalled" by the forced resignation and see it as an attempt by the regents to cover up for their failed oversight.

"We're not saying that a slap on the hand wasn't in order, but this is extreme," she said. "I am so incensed I can't see straight. This is an assassination not only of our president but our institution."

The resignation surprised leading lawmakers, several of whom had criticized Towson for spending excessively at a time when the university system faced budget cuts and tuition increases. Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the budget and taxation committee, had called the spending "outrageous" but said yesterday that she had told regents that forcing Perkins out was not a good idea.

"I thought they didn't exercise due diligence when they picked the house, and that's not his fault," said Hoffman, a Towson graduate.

The Sun reported last month that Towson had spent, by university estimates, about $600,000 of its operating budget on improvements to the $850,000 mansion it bought in Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood last summer. The regents had approved the house purchase based on Towson officials' claim that it required little work.

The regents conducted an audit of the spending after reading last month's newspaper reports and found that the improvements cost closer to $1 million.

In his letter, Perkins said he recommended the audit after he learned March 20 that the cost of the upgrades would be at least $260,000 higher than the $600,000 total that officials had quoted to The Sun.

Perkins defended the spending on the house as Towson's attempt to follow the charge given him by the regents: to boost the profile and endowment of the university, the second-largest in the state system. The regents had approved the house purchase, he said, to provide Towson with a stately setting in which it could entertain state leaders and potential donors.

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