Mock democracy

July 10, 2002

THE ANNUAL election scheduled today by the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents is shaping up to be a contortion act, resembling democracy in name only.

The incumbent candidates for chairman and vice chairman both intend to interrupt their one-year terms of office in just a few months. The fact is, both should make graceful exits sooner rather than later, and under their own steam. Nominated for all the wrong reasons is a status quo slate led by board Chairman Nathan A. Chapman Jr., who has cut a deal in which he will resign from the post after the general election in November if his colleagues elect him today for a fourth term.

This smacks of back-room politicking to save face and avoid making unpopular decisions. Mr. Chapman should be off the board altogether, as his investment banking business undergoes a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. The SEC is looking into allegations that while an arm of his business worked for the state pension board, two of its fund managers invested more than $5 million of state pension money in a Chapman company initial public stock offering.

Mr. Chapman has sought re-election despite objections from some colleagues who are rightly concerned about the appropriateness of the board's most public figure serving while under such a cloud. Yet his nomination was granted.

Nominated for vice chairman is retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, now the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, whose coming months will be filled with campaigning, and whose intimate knowledge of the regents' internal wrangling no doubt will color their future if he's elected.

Shameful. A vote for this slate is a vote for postponing real progress and governance while the political stars align. University life must go on while the regents concern themselves with their own intrigues.

True leadership would have seized the opportunity presented at this critical crossroad, which follows a season of strife including the dismissal of an overspending Towson University president and the governor's unseemly angling for the chancellor's seat.

If Maryland taxpayers, and the students and faculty of its 13 public institutions of higher learning, needed any more evidence that politics has corrupted the Board of Regents, here it is.

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