Towson ex-president faced troubles before

Criticism of Perkins at Wis. campus included spending on his house

April 10, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

As turmoil gripped Towson University yesterday over its president's sudden resignation, faculty and staff at a campus halfway across the nation expressed little surprise.

Mark L. Perkins resigned Monday under pressure from the state university system's Board of Regents over Towson's spending on its new presidential mansion, which totaled nearly $2 million.

Yesterday, regents were still searching for an interim president, as Towson faculty, alumni and students assailed the handling of Perkins' exit.

Meanwhile, faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay said the troubles that forced Perkins' resignation after nine months in office were eerily similar to ones he faced during his eight years as their chancellor. If the regents had tried to learn more about Perkins' tenure in Green Bay, they said, then Towson might have avoided its current plight.

"You can track what he was doing [at Towson] with what he'd done here," said Bill Niedzwiedz, an environmental affairs professor at the Green Bay campus.

Faculty and staff in Wisconsin said Perkins came under criticism for excessive spending on the UWGB president's house when the campus was facing budget cuts. Perkins said the house, which is much smaller than Towson's mansion, needed $130,000 in improvements so it could be used for university parties.

As it turned out, Perkins held very few events at the house, faculty and staff said.

Perkins also came under fire for his use of university staff and students to do chores at the house, including changing light bulbs and cleaning up after the Perkins' family dog, staff and faculty said. When officials entered the house after Perkins' departure last summer, they found rugs ruined by dog waste that was not cleaned up, staff and faculty said.

Perkins was "someone who wants a nice place, but wants someone else to maintain it. That didn't sit well with the work norms of people here in the Midwest," said political science professor David Littig. "We've always felt that if you have a dog, you clean up after it."

Members of the search committee that helped select Perkins last year said yesterday that they had received no inkling of those concerns in telephone conversations with about 15 people in Wisconsin. The regents pointed to Perkins' success building public support for UWGB when they selected him.

"There were no questions raised by any of the references regarding his housing there," said Gerard J. Gaeng, a Towson alumnus and chairman of the search committee.

Said regent David H. Nevins, a Towson graduate and the regents' liaison for the search, "I thought the committee was in fact very diligent in its efforts to find an outstanding president. I'm very sorry this has worked out the way it did."

The committee was assisted by Ron Stead of the Washington firm Academic Search Consultation Service, which charged Towson about $50,000, sources said. Stead did not return a call seeking comment.

The Towson committee repeated the mistake of the UWGB panel that selected Perkins from the California state system by relying on Perkins' supporters without talking to his detractors, said faculty and staff in Wisconsin.

Elaine Capelle, a former computer department employee at UWGB, said a group of female workers there attempted to report its concerns about Perkins' treatment of employees, but was rebuffed by Towson.

"They probably took us as disgruntled employees, but we were really concerned," she said. "This man had put on a false front from the get-go, and we wished we'd had a fair warning."

Perkins, 52, was out of state yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

The Sun reported last month that Towson spent about $600,000 improving the $850,000 house it bought last summer in Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood, five miles from campus. The spending, which included a $25,000 entertainment center and an elevator, came after Towson officials told regents the house needed little work.

A subsequent audit by the regents found that the spending was closer to $1 million. On Friday, regents told Perkins he would be fired if he didn't resign.

At Towson, debate flared yesterday, as many criticized the regents for acting without consulting anyone on the campus. Others questioned the need to remove Perkins, noting that the regents had encouraged Towson to buy a nice house to help in its fund raising.

The Board of Visitors and student government association passed resolutions demanding that the regents reinstate Perkins. The faculty senate considered an invitation to Perkins to join the faculty as a psychology professor, as his Towson contract allows.

"He was not given the regard that he should have been accorded," said Phyllis Brotman of the Board of Visitors.

Underlying the criticism, faculty and alumni said, was Towson's historic suspicion of the regents, who are accused of slighting the 16,000-student campus, the state's second-largest, and of forcing Perkins' predecessor, Hoke L. Smith, into retirement.

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