Governor, comptroller criticize Towson president for athletic team cuts

State Board of Public Works delays contract for unrelated building project

March 21, 2013|By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

The state Board of Public Works publicly scolded the Towson University president Wednesday for her handling of a decision to cut the college's baseball and men's soccer teams and delayed approval of a contract the university requested to build a campus in Harford County.

Two members of the board — Gov. Martin O'Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot — voted to postpone action on a small contract for pre-construction services related to the $25 million satellite campus until Towson's president, Maravene Loeschke, appears at their next meeting in two weeks. Treasurer Nancy Kopp did not join O'Malley and Franchot in voting to delay approval of the contract.

Towson announced this month that it would cut the two teams, calling the move necessary to balance the athletics budget and to comply with Title IX rules. But the way Loeschke broke the news to players — who said she came flanked by several police officers — sparked an uproar from students, coaches and alumni.

"I was pretty disgusted, personally, reading in [The Baltimore Sun] about the details of these actions," Franchot said in an interview after the meeting. "I hope, unless there's an awful good explanation, that the actions are reversed and the teams and the coaches are all put back where they were before."

Towson disputes the version of events offered by the players. Spokeswoman Marina H. Cooper said in an email that Loeschke was accompanied by one plainclothes officer, not several officers.

Players also were upset that they were not given more notice of the announcement. Their coaches were given pink slips in another room while the players got the news.

"We had reliable reports on a leak and it was important to the president that she personally meet and notify the teams of the decision — that they hear the news from her, and her alone," Cooper said in an email. "Coaches met with Human Resources staff simultaneously and were free to be with the players the moment the president concluded her remarks."

Franchot said the players were unfairly treated as "thugs," referring to the presence of the officers.

"What kind of arrogant, heavy-handed decision is that?" he asked.

The board already has approved paying up to $21.5 million to a construction firm for work on a building expected to be Towson's foothold in fast-growing Harford County, which has no four-year universities. The contract the board delayed is for an additional $25,000 for pre-construction management to that firm.

The Towson building is to be constructed on the Harford Community College campus. Harford County Executive David R. Craig expressed his displeasure with the Board of Public Works' decision in a statement, accusing the governor and comptroller of "playing politics."

"Students and their education should not be held hostage because of a difference of opinion on the future of sports at the main Towson University campus," he said. "I urge Governor O'Malley and Comptroller Franchot to set aside personal politics and allow construction of the Towson University facility at Harford Community College to proceed."

Work had been expected to get under way on the 60,000-square-foot building this spring, with the plan to have it ready for classes by the fall 2014 semester, an HCC spokesperson said last month.

The building, called a "2+2 center" in higher educational terms, will be the first building on HCC's new "west campus," planned on the west side of Thomas Run Road north of Harford Technical High School. HCC will lease the site to Towson University, which will own the building.

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