The chancellor of the University of Maryland's College Park campus said yesterday that Gov. Marvin Mandel's office had asked him to "look into" a decision to terminate the governor's sister from a teaching position in the English department.
Dr. Robert L. Gluckstern also said that as a result of inquires he made following that request, she was reinstated in her job.
But the chancellor denied a statement by the acting chairman of the English department in The Washington Post last week that the University had been threatened with a $3 million budget cut if the decision to terminate the governor's sister, Esther Potash, were not reversed.
"I know of no threat to the university and I'm sure I would have know," Gluckstern said. "That's not the way things are done . . ." The acting chairman's verison of what happened "must have originated in some misunderstanding," he said.
"I can easily see two people getting together over a beer an saying 'How mad do you think he (the governor) is? Do you know what he might do?'"
Gluckstern said that as a result of his inquiries, a decision was made to employ Potash, a graduate student, for another year, part time in the English department and part time in the dtan's office. "She has an excellent rapport with students," Gluckstern said, "and she needed only one more year to be eligible for retirement."
The original decision to terminate Potash was in accordance with English department policy to limit the time a graduate student can be employed as an instructor to a maximum of six years before they must earn their doctorate degrees and move on.
Gluckstern said he could not remember when he became aware that the governor's sister was on the Maryland faculty and that a decision had been made to terminate her. But he said he was asked about it by the "governor's office or the governor's staff." He said he could not remember the details of the request or who had made it.
"During the two years I have been on this campus, I have had on the order of 50 requests or more to check on things by members of the governor's staff," Gluckstern said, "and 200 or 300 more from the legislature." All have been checked, he said.
Gluckstern, said that the issue "came up in a conversation. 'Could you look into the fact that the governor's sister is not being reappointed?'"
"It's inconceivable to me that there would have been a threat, but people do get upset if they think their arm is being twisted," Gluckstern added.
Responding to inquiries from The Washington Post, the acting English departmnet chairman, Dr. Calhoun Winton, said a College Park campus administrator told him of the $3 million threat if Potash were not reinstated. After The Post published its story in Saturday's editions, Winton stood by the account several times in conversations with Baltimore area newspaper and television stations.
Gluckstern said generally academic departments like to think of themselves as autonomous and frequently resent interference.
"I suspect that the fact that a request to look into something like this came from the administration immediately caused some resentment," Gluckstern said. "The fact that she is the governor's sister probably annoyed a few more people."
Thom L. Burden, Mandel's press secretary, had described as "absolutely preposterous" the charges that there had been a threat of a $3 million budget cut to save Potash's $10,000-a-year job.