By Daniel de Vise, The Washington Post
7:13 AM EDT, April 3, 2012
University of Maryland University College was academically sound on the day President Susan Aldridge resigned, according to the chancellor of the state university system.
That assurance, conveyed by Chancellor William E. Kirwan in an interview last week, is the closest Maryland higher-education officials have come to answering questions about the sudden departure last month by the leader of the nation's largest online-focused public university.
Aldridge's decision to step down has drawn notice across the national higher-education community because neither she nor the university system has offered an explanation. In a statement March 21, her only public comment, Aldridge said that "this is a good time to step down." She had been on leave for a month. University officials have declined to say whether the leave was voluntary.
Her exit set off a chorus of dissent among current and former employees, who alleged that Aldridge prioritized enrollment and revenue above academics and that she and her administrators oversaw a toxic work environment.
Kirwan has repeatedly declined to elaborate on her resignation or to answer criticisms of her management skills, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters. But in a telephone interview, he signaled that academics were not a factor.
"At the time Susan resigned, there was no question or dissatisfaction or concern about the quality of the programs being offered at University College," Kirwan said recently.
Kirwan also said he had asked the university's accreditors to conduct a special review because of recent allegations against Aldridge and the university. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education normally conducts a full review every 10 years, with a more limited review midway through that span. The regional accreditor commended University College on its latest review, a "self-study" produced by the university last year.
"We are inviting Middle States to come back and reaffirm the findings that they gave us a relatively short time ago," Kirwan said.
Separately, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and chairman of his chamber's education committee, has asked Kirwan to provide records on enrollment and workplace practices.
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