The University of Maryland continued to be in turmoil Friday after a week of tumultuous actions sparked by the death of a football player. The University Senate held an emergency meeting Friday afternoon, and a coalition of student groups plan to hold a protest on Monday.
The University Senate — which is made up of faculty members, staffers and student — passed a resolution condemning the University System of Maryland Board of Regents for its recent actions. The resolution states that the board “grossly exceeded its authority and interfered with the autonomy of our institution,” “demonstrated a complete disregard for academic freedom,” damaged the school’s reputation and jeopardized its accreditation, and betrayed the trust of the campus community. The resolution called on the board to renew its commitment to the welfare of the students and the academic mission.
Thomas Cohen, a physics professor, also circulated a motion of no confidence in U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh, but said he had been asked not to press forward with it to keep the meeting focused on the regents. “The main purpose is to push back at the Board of Regents, because they clearly overstepped the bounds of their mission,” Cohen said.
The state flagship school has been in tumult for months, after the death of a 19-year-old football player who fell ill during a team workout. Two investigations were launched, one into the death of player Jordan McNair and the other into accusations of abuse and bullying in the football program. This week, the turmoil intensified when the Board of Regents announced that the football coach, DJ Durkin, would return from suspension, and Loh announced that he would retire at the end of the academic year. Outrage followed, with assertions by some that the board had chosen sports over academics and had interfered — apparently without precedent — in the internal personnel and management decisions of a campus. Many rushed to support Loh.
“I’ve been with the University of Maryland over 43 years,” said Donald Webster, senior agent with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “I’ve known a lot of good presidents.” Loh is among the best, he said. “I’m very sorry to see President Loh pushed into retirement. . . . It’s a great shame.”
Coming just days before Tuesday’s election, the matter swiftly became a political issue, with Maryland local, state and federal politicians joining the outcry.
“Right now, it’s an almost inchoate anger,” Cohen said, with people certain that things need to change but unclear on how best to improve the situation.
At a student rally on campus Thursday, debate changed from support for the football team to calls to boycott Saturday’s game. “We should not be supporting the athletic program. This university and its athletic program don’t care about black lives,” said Homa Hajarian, a fifth-year senior at U-Md.
As many prominent leaders, including the provost and deans at U-Md., rallied behind Loh, asking him to rescind his resignation, some pushed back.
“Wallace Loh was extremely lackluster in his leadership on the academic side of things,” Cohen said. “He seemed to put a great emphasis on intercollegiate athletics instead. . . . He struck me as a very poor leader for a research university.”
In a news conference earlier this week, Brady rejected the idea that U-Md. prioritized athletics over academics. “I can tell you without equivocation, the idea that academics is not first and foremost at the University of Maryland is absolutely and unequivocally wrong,” he said.
A coalition of more than 20 student groups plans to protest Monday to demand the leadership of the system and the university “prioritize and value students’ safety and well-being over profits and politics.”
They have three demands, said Paula Molina Acosta, a junior women’s studies major who is a leader with the group Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society. First, they want Loh to commit to retiring in June. They want students to have a role with the regents in selecting school presidents and setting policies. And they want the Maryland General Assembly to change the board to an elected body that actively includes students.
Molina Acosta said students have had many concerns, but it “all comes down to the fact that student demands and student voices are not behind heard, not being prioritized on campus. What is being prioritized is profits.”
Sarah Larimer and Joyce Koh contributed.