University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh will remain in his post through mid-2020 under a plan approved Wednesday that delays his retirement for a year while the state flagship’s governing board searches for a successor.
His action on Oct. 30 coincided with an announcement from the University System of Maryland Board of Regents that embattled football coach DJ Durkin would return from a leave of absence. The twin developments — Loh’s planned exit and Durkin’s return — sparked an uproar in College Park, Annapolis and beyond.
The next day, Loh defied the board and fired Durkin. Soon after, the board itself went through upheaval as Chairman James T. Brady resigned and his successor, Linda R. Gooden, apologized for how regents handled the matter.
On Wednesday, the board decided at a meeting in Baltimore that Loh will stay on through June 2020. The board also chose Regent Gary L. Attman, a businessman and U-Md. graduate, to chair a presidential search committee.
“The search for the next leader of Maryland’s flagship will be critically important to the future of that institution and the entire state,” Gooden said. The board will take the time needed, she said, to find “a bold and talented leader who can continue the upward trajectory of one of the nation’s great public research universities.”
System officials said leadership continuity for the next 17 months would help U-Md. solidify athletic reforms related to the football scandal, continue a $1.5 billion fundraising campaign and wrap up other crucial campus business.
“We could always bring in an interim,” Gooden said, “but it wouldn’t be as effective as having the current president finish” the work.
Loh voiced enthusiasm for the plan in a statement: “With all of Maryland’s supporters, I look forward to what we will accomplish together.”
Loh, 74, has led the 40,000-student university since November 2010. The board gave him a $75,000 raise in 2017, setting his annual salary at about $675,000.
Under Loh, the university has expanded fundraising and maintained its reputation as a research powerhouse. U-Md. perennially ranks among the nation’s top 25 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report, and its undergraduate admissions process has grown more competitive.
But the school has also weathered controversies during Loh’s tenure. He drew criticism for eliminating swimming, men’s tennis and other sports teams in 2011 because of budget troubles, and he outraged many basketball fans and alumni in 2012 by orchestrating a move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten.
In 2015, Loh supported removing the surname of an influential 20th century U-Md. president, Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, from the campus football stadium. Loh was persuaded by arguments that Byrd’s legacy was too closely tied to policies of racial segregation. The board voted to rename the edifice Maryland Stadium, but the episode produced lasting strains between Loh and Brady.
Last year, the university’s football program and athletic management came under scrutiny following the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair, who suffered heatstroke during a team workout. After investigators found lapses in McNair’s treatment, Loh in August apologized to McNair’s family and announced that U-Md. accepted “legal and moral responsibility” for mistakes that the U-Md. training staff made on the day of the workout.
In October, an independent commission that investigated the football program and athletics department reported to the board that the department “lacked a culture of accountability” and “did not provide adequate oversight of the football program.” The commission also found evidence of “dysfunction” in the department because of poor relations among top athletic officials — a situation that led to “suboptimal” athletics operations for an extended period of time.
Loh’s critics said he should be held accountable. His supporters said the president should stay and Durkin should be ousted.
In November, Loh told state lawmakers he had warned the board that “all hell will break loose” if it allowed Durkin to resume coaching. By that point, allies were urging Loh to reconsider his retirement. Loh kept quiet, allowing speculation to bloom. In December, Loh and Athletic Director Damon Evans introduced Mike Locksley as Maryland’s head football coach.
Questions about U-Md.’s leadership transition mounted as the board waited three months to decide on the timing of a presidential search. Officials said the pause was needed to consult with those who have a stake in the flagship. They decided extending Loh’s term was in the school’s best interest.
“Having an interim in place was not really a good option,” said system Chancellor Robert L. Caret. “This agreement serves us both.”