PRESIDENT JOHN TOLL of the University of Maryland has made a great mistake in rejecting the appointment of Bertell Ollman as chairman of the Department of Government and Politics at the College Park campus - though not because Mr. Ollman's Marxist politics are an irrelevant concern. The issue of Mr. Ollman's or anybody else's politics does have bearing on his suitability for a teaching appointment. A teacher's politics may be his own business, but it becomes a legitimate criterion by which to judge his appointment when it calls into question his classroom intentions. In recent weeks, Mr. Ollman's public statements have not made his case more appealing. To many, his remarks have suggested that he is in fact more interested in polemics than in political science.
At issue, however, is the academic integrity of the University of Maryland. And what the public thinks of Mr. Ollman is not nearly as important as what the department members at the university thought of him when they were searching for their department chairman. Clearly they thought him fit for the job. If they had believed his politics would impair his teaching, they would not have chosen him chairman. The essential fact is they did choose him deliberately and thougtfully, and it was only after their choice was made that a reasonable procedure became the catalyst for an unreasonable one - when acting Gov. Blair Lee III made his incautious remarks. Gov. Lee's remarks were not only inapproppriate; they also took the Ollman case out of the University of Maryland and plunked it before the public, where it had no business being plunked. At that point the momentum of Mr. Ollman's appointment shifted in his disfavor, and at that point, too, the decision was Mr. Toll's.
In a way, it was unfair for the Ollman case to come before Mr. Toll in the first place. Properly Mr. Ollmans fate was up to the president's predecessor, Wilson H. Elkins, and Mr. Elkins ought never to have left so volcanic a legacy. Yet Mr. Toll has made his legacy more volcanic still. He states now that Mr. Ollman was unqualified academically, yet the department, along with the chancellor and provost of the College Park campus, have said other-wise. More important, they said so at a time when the Ollman case was purely a professional problem.
At this point it would be impossible to prove wheather or not Mr. Ollman was qualified academically to run the department. It was impossible to do so at the outset; the majority of department members simply reached their best judgment. But Mr. Toll has made a great mistake in not accepting that majority judgment. All his decision will accomplish is to make it clear that dissenters are not welcome at the university, and to send a deep shiver through faculty members at state universities like Maryland, who might have considered making similar appointments.
Most discouraging, though, is the effect Mr. Toll's decision is bound to have on the university itself. Maryland is a fine university, much better in fact than its reputation. It seems a gratuitous blow to make its reputation worse.