Chapman quits as head of regents

Resignation comes two months earlier than originally planned

October 12, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Nathan A. Chapman Jr. resigned yesterday as chairman of the state university system's Board of Regents, two months earlier than previously planned, bringing to an end his three-year tenure overseeing the state's public colleges.

Chapman had said in July that he would step down as chairman at the end of this year, thereby allowing the regents to name a new chairman with the backing of the new governor to be elected next month. He said at the time he would resign to devote more time to his Baltimore investment management business, which is the subject of a federal investigation centering on the firm's handling of state pension funds.

In recent weeks, regents have privately expressed the hope that Chapman would not wait until after the election to resign the chairmanship. They said they were concerned that repeated references to his position as board chairman in reports on his business troubles would affect the board's public image.

Chapman made no mention of such pressures at yesterday's board meeting. He said he was stepping down now to allow the regents time to select a new chairman immediately after the election Nov. 5. He said he will remain a regular board member for the remaining two years of his term.

"I think this is an appropriate time," he said. "It's important the new chair have an excellent relationship with the new governor, so this way the board will have enough time to make sure that person is prepared to see that through."

Chapman, the first African-American to lead the board, told the roomful of higher education officials that he'd been honored to lead the system during a period that saw a rapid rise in its national reputation. He said he took satisfaction in his role encouraging Gov. Parris N. Glendening, his longtime ally, to provide large funding increases for the university system.

"My relationship with [the governor] led to us having an historic increase in support," he said. "It wasn't a tough sell, because of his support for higher education, but I had to spend a lot of time in making sure he understood our message against the pressures he was receiving" for other spending priorities.

Chapman noted that his tenure also included the state's higher-education desegregation agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights; the introduction of collective bargaining rights for university employees; and the selection of a new university system chancellor.

The chancellor search generated nationwide attention last year when Glendening expressed interest in the $375,000 job, only to withdraw his candidacy amid complaints that it was unethical for him to seek a position that would be filled by regents he appointed. The board later hired William E. Kirwan, then president of Ohio State University.

"I'm proud that with all that happened the past few years, we've come out of it without any hint of scandal," Chapman said. "There's been some unfounded criticism, but people will look on back on this time as one of the heydays of higher education in Maryland."

The board will select a new chairman after the November election and in time for its next meeting, in December.

The resignation will give Chapman more time to focus on his company, eChapman.com, which has seen its stock plummet during the past year. Federal officials are investigating the purchase of stock in the company by managers selected by Chapman to invest state pension funds - purchases officials have said cost the pension fund roughly $5 million.

After Chapman's announcement, Kirwan and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a regent, both praised Chapman's leadership, with Hoyer calling Chapman a "catalyst in galvanizing" support for the system among lawmakers and higher education officials.

"You have brought a unique perspective. African-Americans have not received fair treatment in this country and this state, and we're still struggling to ensure all citizens are treated fairly," Hoyer said. "Nate Chapman, you have been a leader in that effort, and our state thanks you for it."

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