The Washington Post

Md. state university leaders express regrets on closed meetings

University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany, University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, University System of Maryland Chairman of the Board of Regents James L. Shea, and Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson stand for a photo after a press conference announcing that University of Maryland is joining the Big Ten Conference on Nov. 19, 2012 in College Park. (Patrick McDermott/GETTY IMAGES)

University System of Maryland leaders expressed regret Friday that their governing board failed to follow requirements of state open-meeting laws when it met twice in private last month to consider a proposal for U-Md. to move to the Big Ten athletic conference.

The two unannounced meetings of the Board of Regents — a telephone conference on Nov. 18 and a face-to-face session in Baltimore on Nov. 19 — occurred without public notice or a public vote to go into closed session.

Those two steps, required under the state’s sunshine law for public boards, were omitted as university officials rushed to consider a switch from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten.

Much was at stake, including major television revenue, the future of athletic programs at the flagship university in College Park and decades of fan loyalty to the ACC. Officials later cited “the emergency nature” of the proposal as justification for the secrecy. The board endorsed the athletic conference switch on a 13 to 1 vote — an action officials say was not necessary for the deal to go forward.

But system leaders made clear in a statement that there were missteps.

“The board and USM officials acknowledge and sincerely regret that the public notice and closing procedures required by the Maryland Open Meetings Act were not followed with regard to the two sessions,” the statement said. “However, the matters discussed at each meeting were proper subjects for closed-session discussions in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.”

The statement added: “The USM board and officials and the Attorney General’s Office are thoroughly reviewing their practices to ensure that the USM vigilantly adheres to all of the Open Meetings Act’s procedural as well as substantive requirements.”

A system spokesman said board Chairman James L. Shea read the statement at the end of a board meeting at Coppin State University in Baltimore.

Shea was not immediately available for comment.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

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