The nomination of a Marxist political scientist to head a University of Maryland department has provoked agrowing campus controversy that yesterday spilled over into the arena of state politics, as Acting Gov. Blair Lee III questioned the wisdom of the appointment.
Questioned about the situation at his weekly news conference, Lee warned that the appointment of New York University professor Bertell Ollman "could kick up quite a backlash." Ollman is the leading candidate for the cahairmanship of the department of government and politics at the university's College Part campus.
"If this was Harvard we were running, it would be no big problem," Lee added. "That is a private institution. But for a public institution . . . it's a question of whether it's wise to make such an appointment."
Lee would not say whether he will try to block Ollman's appointment, but he did say he would discuss the selection of a department chairman with university president Wilson H. Elkins when Elkins returns from a trip to the West Coast.
There is no provision in state law that would give the governor authority to intervene in the academic hiring process. According to past practice, Elkins has the final say over Ollman's appointment.
However, even before Lee questioned the wisdom of the appointment yesterday, at least two members of the university's 13-member Board of Regents - the university's governing body - publicly objected to the appointment of a Marxist to the department chairmanship.
At the same time Board Chairman B. Herbert Brown has indicated he does not believe the regents should intercede in the matter. The board does have the authority to do so, however, should the regents choose to exercise it.
That nomination, disclosed Tuesday in the student newspaper, the Diamondback, has been approved by Provost Murray Polakoff and Chancellor Robert Gluckstern and is currently on Elkins' desk. Members of the president's staff said yesterday that an immediate decision is unlikely.
The nomination has become the focal point of a campus controversy, with some faculty members defending ollman as a highly regarded scholar and others questioning whether Ollman's political philosphy makes the nomination unwise.
'I'm not for it. I just don't think a Marxist should be at a state institution in a position of that caliber," said Samuel Hoover, a member of the Boarded of Regent.
"He'll never get on there. We've (the regents) got the final say. We have too many of those kind of people from up in New York down here now," Hoover added.
In the midst of all the furor in Maryland over his nomination, Ollman yesterday seemed calm and relaxed. Speaking by telephone from his home in New York, he declined to comment on the acting governor's remarks, saying only, "I'm looking forward to being in Maryland in the fall. I'm optimistic about the selection process."
The 41-year-old scholar, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Wisconsin who holds a doctorate from Oxford University in England, said that he is "a Marxist in the sense of favoring Marxist approaches to the study of politics.
"I'm not a member of the Communist Party or anything of that sort," added Ollman, who describes himself as a socialist.
Ollman was nominated by a nine-member search committee that screened some 100 applications. He won the quick approval of both Chancellor Gluckstern and Provost Polakoff, both of whom are known to feel Ollman is a first-rate scholar.
Kluckstern and several other administrators and faculty members at College Park have urged publicly in the last few days that Ollman should be judged solely on the basis of academic qualifications and not his political views.
"As a scholar, as a student of politics he is committed to very high intellectual standards. He has developed for himself a very distinguished academic reputation," said Oran Young, a professor of government and the ranking faculty member of the search committee that nominated Ollman.
"So long as a person has a serious committment to scholarship and teaching, an individual's values or ideology is simply irrelevant for a position of this kind," Young added.
But Parris Glendening, a Prince George's County councilman and an associate professor of government, warned that "there's going to be a lot of political reaction and public discussion of his Marxist affiliations. The chair often symbolizes the direction and emphasis of a department . . . We're missing the boat if we go off in some esoteric strain."
All his press conference yesterday, Acting Gov. Lee indicated that state legislators, as well as faculty members, might have concerns about Ollman's political philosophy - and might react to his appointment by attempts to cut the university's budget.
Already, Lee said, one legislator - state Sen. John J. Bishop (R-Baltimore County) - has called to lodge a formal complaint about Ollman's nomination.