Probe displays ties between Annapolis and College Park

Anti-crime office sends grants, jobs to university

August 18, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

This time of year, the University of Maryland, College Park is supposed to be receiving tuition checks. This summer, it's also been receiving subpoenas.

To many, one of the more bewildering aspects of the continuing federal grand jury investigation into the crime prevention office overseen by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has been the involvement of the University of Maryland. So far, the university has received subpoenas for records relating to at least 21 grants worth more than $6 million that it has received from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

It may be some time before the grand jury concludes its probe, which appears to be exploring whether federal grants have been misused to advance the political fortunes of Townsend, who is running for governor. But this much is clear: The inquiry has put on display the increasingly close relationship between the state's flagship university and state government -- particularly the executive branch.

University officials say the crime control office -- one of Townsend's primary responsibilities as lieutenant governor -- gave them federal grants the university had not applied for and told them to use the money to hire about 30 workers who then reported to the state anti-crime office, not the university. In addition, the crime-control office steered money to the university to lease cars for about a dozen anti-crime office workers and to rent space for an office for the agency, records show.

Some see the flow of grant money between the crime prevention office and the university as yet another sign of an axis between Annapolis and College Park that has been strengthened in recent years by politics and personal dynamics. They note that Gov. Parris N. Glendening served on the College Park faculty for 27 years, expressed interest in the university system's $375,000-a-year chancellorship and may well seek a teaching post in College Park next year, as did William Donald Schaefer when he left the State House in 1994.

Job flow

Job patronage has worked in both directions between state government and College Park and the state university system. In 2000, Lance W. Billingsley, a system regent and close friend of Glendening's, came close to being awarded a newly created $185,000-a-year system vice chancellorship. Billingsley withdrew from consideration for the proposed post after a dispute erupted that raised conflict-of-interest issues.

Last month, Townsend selected as her running mate the vice chairman of the university system's Board of Regents, retired Adm. Charles R. Larson.

In addition, the president of the Senate, Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, is an outspoken College Park booster; a majority of the regents are more closely allied with College Park than with the state's other public campuses; and the state's new chancellor, William E. Kirwan, is a former president of College Park.

"When the state legislature made College Park its statutory flagship [in 1988] and told it to strive ahead in seeking national eminence, there was bound to be a natural gravitation by the university toward the power connection," said Edwin S. Crawford, a former regent.

Some College Park officials and faculty reject the notion that they are in the service of the state's political leaders, saying the close association between the university and the crime control office is just a reflection of the university's role as a land-grant institution. One of the university's founding missions, they note, was not only to educate the state's young people but also to serve the state in a research capacity.

Originally, that meant researching agricultural practices. Today, it's more likely to involve evaluating and advising state agencies in areas such as substance abuse treatment or juvenile justice -- work that can often blur the boundaries between the university and government.

Being responsive

"The broader issue here is that we've tried for years to make our campus more accessible to particular state agencies," said Charles F. Wellford, the chairman of the school's criminology department, which received a subpoena for a $609,856 grant issued to one of its faculty by the crime control office to oversee after-school programs. "It's part of a larger trend of land-grant universities trying to be responsive to state needs."

University officials and faculty acknowledge that the close working relationship between state agencies and the university can sometimes make it hard to tell the two entities apart.

For instance, they say, federal grants to the state for social service and criminal justice programs typically require the state to conduct research into the effectiveness of the program in question to justify the funding. Often, the state will turn to academics to carry out that research, assuming they have an expertise and objectivity that the state agency lacks.

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