Those events — indicating that the board had effectively sided with the football coach over the university president — produced a maelstrom.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), lawmakers, faculty, donors and others denounced the board. In a stunning act of defiance against the board, Loh fired Durkin on Oct. 31. Board chair James T. Brady resigned the next day.
Now, the board is seeking to make amends.
Regents met behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore to choose Linda R. Gooden, a retired Lockheed Martin executive, as their new chair. Then, Gooden opened the doors to reporters and read a brief public statement:
“In its quest to keep an open mind about the facts presented in the two recent reports on the tragic death of Jordan McNair and the University of Maryland, College Park, football program and subsequent interviews with those involved, the board — in the minds of many — lost sight of its responsibility to the university system,” Gooden said.
“While the board’s decision was far from unanimous, and many members voted a different way, every one on the board now understands that the board’s recommendation was wrong. For that we apologize to the McNair family, the University of Maryland College Park community and to the citizens of the state.”
Gooden declined to take questions from reporters about the football scandal and the recent leadership turmoil.
Loh issued a note of welcome to the new regents chair.
“I congratulate Regent Linda Gooden on her election as chair of the [University System of Maryland] Board of Regents,” Loh wrote. “I look forward to working with her and the Board to advance the educational, research, and public service missions of [University of Maryland, College Park] for the benefit of the people of our State.”
Gooden, 65, lives in Anne Arundel County and has been on the board since July 2009. She was appointed that year by Hogan’s Democratic predecessor, Martin O’Malley.
Members of the board are unpaid and serve staggered five-year terms, except for a student member who serves a one-year term. Usually, the board operates outside the limelight as it presides over 12 public universities with 175,000 students and an annual operating budget of more than $5.3 billion.
The 40,000-student flagship in College Park is the system’s best-known institution. But the system spans a diverse array of schools, from Frostburg State University in Western Maryland to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Sometimes, it must juggle conflicting interests among the schools.
Among the issues the board faces is a succession plan for Loh. Some of Loh’s supporters have urged him to stay beyond June, but the U-Md. president has given no sign he will seek to do so. Loh took office at College Park in 2010 after serving as provost at the University of Iowa and holding senior positions at the universities of Seattle, Colorado at Boulder and Washington.
The regents took an unusual step in August when they voted to assume control of investigations Loh had launched into McNair’s death in June and allegations of an abusive culture within the football program.
Typically, the board stays out of the day-to-day operations of universities. It has the power to hire and fire presidents, and it consults with those leaders often.
But the board took criticism for immersing itself in personnel issues of the athletic department under Loh and seeking to impose solutions to those issues on Loh. Some critics believed the board overstepped its authority. But defenders said the board was obligated to act as the crisis was unfolding.
In a separate move, U-Md. this week fired two high-ranking athletic trainers whose actions had come into question after the death of McNair following a team workout.
Rick Maese contributed to this report.