One of the most generous donors to the University of Maryland urged state leaders Monday to stand by Wallace D. Loh, president of the flagship College Park campus, calling it a matter of trust.
Brendan Iribe, whose $31 million donation in 2014 was the largest gift in the university’s history until last year, brought a letter to Maryland leaders urging Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and others to keep Loh in his post.
Loh announced last week he would step down at the end of the school year amid turmoil that arose after a football player died following a team workout. He made that announcement after the school’s governing body, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, urged him to keep the school’s embattled football coach.
The regents overstepped their authority, Iribe wrote. “Because of the improper handling, the credibility and reputation of the university have been jeopardized and we may have lost a great president,” he said.
Iribe, who made a fortune in video-game technology such as the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, is a University of Maryland College Park Foundation trustee. He wrote that he is committed to supporting U-Md. — if it is governed appropriately. “Alumni and corporate donors give based on a foundation of trust that the affairs of the university will be handled properly,” he wrote. “I urge you, the Board of Regents, and the Chancellor to publicly declare support for President Loh’s continued leadership.”
Iribe’s letter emerged as more than 50 of the university’s top professors signed their own letter expressing “deep dismay and profound disappointment” in the regents' actions, which they said diminished the integrity of the school.
“It comes down to what you think is important in life,” said Jeffrey Herf, a history professor who helped lead the response from top faculty members. “What do you think a university should mostly be about? That’s what this revolt on campus is about: What are our values?”
A coalition of student groups gathered Monday to protest the regents' actions and demand more student involvement in the leadership of the school and the creation of an elected, rather than appointed, Board of Regents. The student groups, though, do not want Loh to stay beyond the end of the school year; in a statement, they wrote that Loh and the board have consistently prioritized profit at the expense of students.
The leadership of U-Md. has been roiled by the death of football player Jordan McNair.
A day after regents recommended the school’s football coach and athletic director be retained, Loh stunned the campus when he announced that football coach DJ Durkin had been asked to leave U-Md. Loh’s decision, made in defiance of the regents, was hailed in some quarters as a reassertion of the university’s autonomy and a rejection of the pervasive influence of athletics.
More turmoil arrived Thursday when the chairman of the Board of Regents stepped down.
A spokeswoman for U-Md. did not respond to questions about Loh’s retirement Monday. A spokesman for the Board of Regents referred questions to a board statement Thursday night. In that statement, regents wrote of the complexity of the issues.
Last week, the chairman of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation Board of Trustees, Geoff J. Gonella, said the board’s actions had wreaked havoc and may have dealt a “fatal” blow to the school’s $1.5 billion fundraising campaign.
The A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, which gave the largest single gift to U-Md. at $219 million in 2017, declined to comment Monday.
Fifty-four of the 70 people honored as distinguished university professors, the highest honor given to tenured faculty, have signed a letter to the regents written last week. They wrote that Loh was the only university official who took full moral and financial responsibility for the death of 19-year-old McNair even though, they said, it was the football coach who was responsible for dangerous conditions in the program.
“Someone who is paid 12.5 million dollars over a five-year period should have the elementary common sense to know how to run a football practice on a hot and humid summer day that does not lead to the death of a player,” the professors wrote. "By reinstating the head football coach and by pressuring the university president to resign, the Regents have revealed their distorted priorities, ones that place potential athletic success over the University’s academic purpose and the health of our athletes.”
On Friday, the University Senate, which represents faculty members, staff and students, passed a scathing resolution condemning the regents' actions.
The University Senate wrote that regents “grossly exceeded” their authority and “interfered with the autonomy” of the university, “demonstrated a complete disregard for academic freedom,” damaged the school’s reputation, jeopardized its accreditation and “betrayed the trust” of the campus community.