Top UM regent leaving his post

Chapman to quit in fall but remain on board

`100 percent my decision'

He plans to concentrate on troubled finance firm

July 08, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

In another of a string of recent departures in the top ranks of Maryland higher education, Nathan A. Chapman Jr. says he will step down as chairman of the state university system's Board of Regents at the end of the year.

Chapman, a 44-year-old investment manager and Baltimore native, said he will accept the board's nomination to be re-elected to a fourth year as chairman at its annual officers election Wednesday. But he will resign the post soon after the November general election to allow the next governor to recommend a leader for the board, which oversees the system's 13 branches.

"We're in a time of transition, and it's an appropriate transition point for me," said Chapman, who plans to remain on the board as a regular member for the remaining three years of his term. "It's time for someone else to take over from here."

Chapman said his resignation as chairman will allow him to concentrate on turning around his business, eChapman, the nation's first publicly traded African-American-owned investment firm, which has seen its stock plummet in the past year.

In February, the state pension board dropped a subsidiary of eChapman as manager of about $175 million in retirement funds after learning that the company is under investigation by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC is investigating allegations that a fund manager chosen by the eChapman subsidiary invested state pension money in eChapman.

Several regents have met with Chapman in recent months to share their concern about the SEC inquiry and to discuss whether he should remain chairman, board sources say. But, Chapman said, the decision to accept re-election with the understanding about his resignation was "definitely 100 percent my decision."

"It is time to focus more on [eChapman], and it's also time for more personal time with my family," he said.

Chapman's decision comes as the state awaits the arrival next month of its new system chancellor as well as the arrival of new presidents at four of its campuses. It also comes one week after the regent often mentioned as a possible successor, board Vice Chairman Charles Larson, was selected as Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's running mate on her gubernatorial ticket.

With Larson expected to leave the board soon, it is unclear who will take over the chairmanship, a powerful position in the 130,000-student system, in which individual campuses do not have governing boards. The chairman runs regents meetings, acts as the board's spokesman with the news media, and oversees the hiring and firing of university presidents.

The position was an especially demanding one during Chapman's three-year tenure as the board faced an array of challenges: the retirement of its chancellor and three longtime college presidents, a desegregation settlement for its historically black colleges, a new collective bargaining law for system workers and an explosion of construction.

"Anyone will tell you it's been the busiest time in the history of the board," Chapman said.

Regents and observers have praised Chapman for committing so many hours to the chairmanship, presenting a united front for a board given to internal dissension and gaining state support for the system through his longtime friendship with Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"He was able to pick up the phone anytime to monitor the progress of budget formation and to lobby for the ... initiatives critical to the system's success," said Regent Thomas Finan of Cumberland.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Chapman's alma mater, said the chairman was motivated by his appreciation of the "transforming power" of education for those born without advantages.

"He spent an enormous number of hours working with a variety of presidents and others focusing on the problems we face," Hrabowski said. "The work has been difficult and challenging with very little reward."

Chapman, the youngest nonstudent regent ever appointed and the board's first black chairman, said he was particularly proud of his handling of delicate discussions with veteran presidents whom the board was encouraging to retire, such as Towson University's Hoke L. Smith and Coppin State College's Calvin W. Burnett: "These men were legends when I was in elementary school, and I had to look them in the eye and talk to them about retirement."

Perhaps his top accomplishment, Chapman said, was securing William E. Kirwan, former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, as the system's new chancellor. After the regents' search committee settled on him as its top choice, Chapman said, he called an emergency meeting of the full board in April at which he persuaded members to offer Kirwan the job without interviewing him because he worried the deal would fall apart if they waited.

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