Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill voiced support for University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh on Wednesday, with at least two urging the leader of the state flagship school in College Park to reconsider his plan to retire at the end of the school year.
The remarks came after Maryland’s congressional delegation met with University System of Maryland officials to discuss the fallout from U-Md. football player Jordan McNair’s death in June and a leadership controversy that erupted in late October.
On Oct. 30, Loh announced his plan to retire at the end of the school year after the system’s governing Board of Regents recommended he keep DJ Durkin as football coach. On Oct. 31, Loh defied the board and fired Durkin. On Nov. 1, the board chairman, James T. Brady, resigned.
Loh later said he had warned the board in private that “all hell will break loose” if it sought to keep Durkin.
On Wednesday, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who is the incoming House majority leader, reiterated previous statements that he wants Loh to stay. Hoyer told reporters that Loh had made the retirement decision “under great duress." Now that the controversy has receded somewhat, Hoyer said, “I think he ought to withdraw the intention to retire and leave the university."
Joining Hoyer in that view was Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). “I make no bones about it: I want to see Dr. Loh stay,” Cummings said. “I think he has done an outstanding job.”
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) told reporters that lawmakers have “great confidence in Dr. Loh and his leadership.” Cardin stopped short of calling on Loh to rescind his retirement plan. “He has to make his own judgments as to his future,” Cardin said.
Loh did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In public, he has made no move to rescind his plans. Nor has he done anything to squelch speculation that he will change course.
Members of Congress have no direct role in the governance of U-Md. or the system. But the political importance of the university in the state is immense. “We represent Maryland,” Cummings said. “This is the flagship. . . . The fact is that we take an interest in it. . . . It’s as simple as that.”
The board has not made any public statement on plans to launch a search to replace Loh.
Linda Gooden, now the board chair, has focused in recent weeks on repairing relations with key constituencies in Annapolis, College Park and Washington. Gooden and system Chancellor Robert L. Caret met with lawmakers Wednesday for more than hour. Afterward, Gooden told reporters the university system is committed to implementing reforms to enhance student-athlete safety. The death of McNair, she said, is “a tragedy that none of us ever wants to see again.”
On Tuesday, U-Md. announced that Mike Locksley, from the coaching staff of the powerhouse University of Alabama team, would become the Maryland football coach. He had previously served as a member of the U-Md. coaching staff.