(This post has been updated.)
In the frenzy leading up to the University of Maryland joining the Big Ten Conference on Monday, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents met twice behind closed doors to discuss the move and vote to endorse it.
I wrote an article for Wednesday’s newspaper about how the meetings — unannounced and entirely out of public view — appear to be in violation of Maryland Open Meetings Act, according to legal experts. (You can read the full article here: “Legality of University System of Maryland’s Big Ten vote questioned.”)
What do we know about these two meetings? Here’s a timeline pieced together using a variety of sources, including information provided by a university system spokesman on Tuesday afternoon:
Thursday, Nov. 15: The Board of Regents was notified of the proposal on Thursday, according to Regent C. Thomas McMillen, a former Terps basketball star who went on to become a Democratic congressman.
Saturday, Nov. 17: Rumors of U-Md. possibly leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference and joining the Ben Ten began to circulate late on Friday and picked up steam on Saturday. At some point on Saturday, the board of regents arranged via e-mail to hold a “closed session” telephone conference the next day.
Sunday, Nov. 18: At 4:30 p.m. the teleconference began. Thirteen of the board’s 17 regents were on the line: Chairman James L. Shea, Orlan M. Johnson, Francis X. Kelly Jr., Linda R. Gooden, Louise Michaux Gonzales, David Kinkopf, Gary L. Attman, McMillen, Barry P. Gossett, Earl F. “Buddy” Hance, John L. Young, Patricia S. Florestano and student regent Steven Hershkowitz.
(Originally, a spokesman for the board did not include the board chairman, Shea, on a list of the regents who participated in the call. On Wednesday afternoon, the spokesman updated that list to include Shea.)
The regents were joined by university system Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan and some of his staff, along with representatives from U-Md. People with information say that U-Md. President Wallace Loh was on the line.
Loh has implied that the decision to move to the Big Ten was mostly his to make, but he sought a blessing from the school’s ultimate authority, the board of regents, before doing so. If the regents voted no, Loh said he would not have proceeded.
Although news of the teleconference leaked to reporters and was widely reported, the university system never formally announced they were meeting, as is required by the Maryland Open Meetings Act. The regents did not take a vote to go into closed session, saying there was no need to do so because they scheduled the meeting via e-mail (messages officials have yet to share) to be closed. Legal experts say this is a clear violation of the act.
The regents also did not compose a written statement explaining why they closed the meeting, as is required by the act. “Due to the emergency nature of the Sunday conference call, a written statement was not prepared,” the spokesman said.
The phone conference ended at roughly 5:45 p.m. At 6:30 p.m. the regents scheduled a meeting for the next morning.
Soon, ESPN reported that the regents would meet in Baltimore at 9 a.m. on Monday to vote on the matter. That night, I asked three spokespeople — one with the system and two with U-Md. — to tell me when and where that meeting would occur. I told them that under the Maryland Open Meetings Act they had to tell me. But they did not.
There was no mention of the full meeting on the regents’ Web site, but there was a notice that a board committee would meet at University of Baltimore at 10:30 a.m.
Monday, Nov. 19: The regents gathered for a full meeting at 8:30 a.m. at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, in the president’s conference room on the 14th floor of the Saratoga Street Office Building, according to the spokesman.
Ten regents were there in person: Chairman Shea, Attman, Young, McMillen, Florestano, Gonzales, Kelly, Kinkopf, Frank M. Reid III and Hershkowitz, the student regent. Four others joined via telephone: Gossett, Gooden, Hance and Johnson. (Three regents did not participate in either meeting: Thomas G. Slater, Norman R. Augustine and Paul Vance.)
Again, the meeting was not announced, there was no vote to go into closed session and no written statement was made to explain why the meeting was not public. Again, legal experts say all of those things appear to violate the Maryland Open Meetings Act.
The meeting was a continuation of the Sunday conference call, according to the spokesman, and it was held in closed session because the “board was receiving legal advice and reviewing confidential commercial and financial information pursuant to the Maryland Open Meetings Act.” Legal experts have challenged those reasons as likely not being enough cause to close the entire two-hour meeting.
The meeting lasted for about two hours. Here’s what a spokesman for the regents say happened: “Following a robust discussion, each regent commented on the issue and offered their opinion on whether to endorse or not endorse.”
When some regents asked why they couldn’t hear from other stakeholders before taking a vote, they were told that the nondisclosure agreement signed with the Big Ten prevented such a discussion, according to McMillen in an opinion piece for the Washington Post
Thirteen of the regents present, including the student regent, voted to endorse the university’s application for the Big Ten. One regent — self-identified as McMillen — voted against it, citing the lack of transparency in the process.
Most of the information that regents received about the Big Ten was verbal, McMillen said. Board members received one piece of paper outlining the proposal but he said it was taken away at the end of the meeting. McMillen said he didn’t understand why the decision had to be made so quickly.
In a piece headlined “Big Ten. Big Mistake.” McMillen wrote: “Given that Maryland cannot join the Big Ten until 2014, why the big rush? The Big Ten needs Maryland in order to finalize a new TV package... It wanted Maryland two years ago, and it will want Maryland tomorrow. There was plenty of time to build a real case for a move if it made sense. The real problem is that commissioners of athletic conferences can dictate terms to universities that effectively highjack the possibility of debate, and that is just plain wrong.”
Starting at about 9 a.m. a swarm of reporters gathered about two miles away at the University of Baltimore’s student center, where a regents committee meeting was scheduled to happen. University system officials there repeatedly told reporters they did not know where, when or how the regents were meeting.
It was after 11 a.m. before a few regents showed up for the committee meeting. Regent Florestano told reporters that the regents had just held “a full board meeting” and voted nearly unanimously to endorse U-Md. moving to the Big Ten. She said it was closed to the public because “financial issues” were involved.
Soon, news broke that the Big Ten move would happen, and a news conference was arranged for 3 p.m. in College Park. Throughout the day, university system officials continued to decline to say where and when the regents met and why their meeting was closed to the public.
Monday afternoon: The news conference featured Loh, Kirwan, U-Md. Athletic Director Kevin Anderson and Big Ten Commissioner James Delany.
In his opening remarks, U-Md. President Loh said: “This morning the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland voted very strongly to endorse our application into the Big Ten. And shortly thereafter, the council of presidents of the Big Ten voted to admit us into the Big Ten conference.”
When reporters were allowed to ask questions, I asked when and where the regents had met that morning, and why the public was not notified.
Kirwan, who oversees the entire university system, answered that members held a “conference call executive session” on Sunday that was suspended and restarted on Monday morning at the University of Maryland, Baltimore — which he said has a “very convenient parking arrangement” and conference facilities. Kirwan said the board is entitled to hold such meetings “to consider contracts and financial arrangements.”
Kirwan said that while “some members” were at the meeting, “many of the members in the meeting were on the telephone.” (On Tuesday, a spokesman for the board said that 10 members physically attended the meeting, while only four were on the phone.)
I asked again why the public was not informed.
Kirwan responded: ”According to the Attorney General, we followed all of the procedures that we are expected to follow in holding an executive session — for the board to hold an executive session.”
Officials in the attorney general’s office declined to comment on Tuesday.
Tuesday, Nov. 20: University system spokesman Mike Lurie, with assistance from the attorney general’s office, provided a list of answers to questions about the two meetings. Although officials maintain that they are legally allowed to hold closed-session meetings, Lurie wrote in an e-mail: “Given the concerns raised regarding the scheduling of the meetings, the USM Board of Regents is reviewing its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Maryland Open Meetings Act.”
Wednesday, Nov. 21: Shea, the chairman of the board, and Chancellor Kirwan released a statement to clarify that U-Md.’s move to the Big Ten did not require approval of the regents — but the regents deliberated on the matter because it is one of “such significant magnitude.”
The statement reitterates that the closed session was convened with “the advice and counsel of the Office of the Attorney General.” Officials in the attorney general’s office have declined to comment. The two men also wrote that the open meetings law does not preclude publics from taking action — like a vote — in a closed session. (Full statement)
This post was updated on Wednesday afternoon to include comments from McMillen, a new count of which regents participated in the Sunday meeting and the statement from Shea and Kirwan.