James Brady, the chairman of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, resigned Thursday, overtaken by the whirlwind of controversy at the state’s flagship university that began with the June death of football player Jordan McNair.
“In recent days, I have become the public face of both the board and its decisions,” Brady said in a statement. “In my estimation, my continued presence on the board will inhibit its ability to move Maryland’s higher education agenda forward. And I have no interest in serving as a distraction from that important work.”
His resignation took effect immediately.
While two sources said vice chairman Barry Gossett Jr. will assume Brady’s duties, the university said the board would schedule a meeting next week to select a new chair. Gossett declined to comment.
The news capped off a tumultuous three days in which football coach DJ Durkin was reinstated Tuesday by the regents and then fired Wednesday by university President Wallace Loh, who has said he will retire in June.
Brady had defended the board’s initial decisions to retain Durkin, as well as athletic director Damon Evans, who remains in his position. Brady said that while a board-commissioned report released this week found problems within the university’s football program, the responsibility for that “dysfunction” was shared by Durkin, Evans and Loh.
But the move to retain Durkin and Evans while Loh retired provoked outcry across the university community, from lawmakers and from Gov. Larry Hogan.
Earlier Thursday, Hogan said he wanted a “complete and thorough investigation” into the board’s actions.
“I was disappointed by the decision of the regents,” the governor said. “I have no idea how they arrived at their recommendations. … We can ask for people’s resignations at some point if we feel that’s the proper step.”
After Brady resigned, Hogan thanked him for his service.
“The governor believes that the university system must move forward in an open and transparent manner to restore public trust in Maryland’s flagship university,” said Amelia Chassé, Hogan’s spokeswoman.
Brady — who was appointed to the board by Hogan and had served as the governor’s campaign chairman in 2014 — had come under withering criticism.
Geoff J. Gonella, who chairs the University of Maryland College Park Foundation Board of Trustees, said the university system’s regents have “wreaked havoc” and deliberately undermined university leadership by taking control of the investigation into McNair’s death, reinstating Durkin and “evidently” forcing the retirement of Loh.
Influential voices including former University System of Maryland chancellor Brit Kirwan and former regents chair Jim Shea have called for the president to reconsider his plan to retire.
What’s more, the accreditation of the University of Maryland, College Park, is under review in the wake of McNair’s death. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is scheduled to discuss its stamp of approval on the university at a meeting later this month.
Democrat Ben Jealous, who is running against Hogan for governor, had faulted Hogan repeatedly for his connections to Brady.
“He’s been playing politics,” Jealous said of Hogan Thursday morning before Brady resigned. “Jim Brady chaired his campaign. He chaired his transition. I understand why [Hogan] might not want to fire him or ask him to resign but he needs to and he should. … A child has died. Jordan McNair is no longer with us. He’s not coming back. …. Mr. Brady has put our university system at risk.”
Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who has stayed neutral in the governor’s race, was similarly harsh in his criticism.
Franchot said the regents’ actions made Maryland look “similar to a third-rate southern university that’s a football factory.”
He said the school needs to clean house.
“I would get rid of the athletic director. I would have the regents reconfigured,” Franchot said. “I think Dr. Loh should stick to his retirement. I think we need new leadership up and down the line at College Park. … They've done significant damage to the state’s reputation.”
State Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Democrat who represents College Park, said in a statement that Brady needs to undo his actions of earlier this week.
"I've known Jim Brady for more than 20 years. He's a good man who wants the best for our state,” Rosapepe said. “He and his colleagues of the USM Board of Regents made a major mistake this week and he recognized it and acted to help correct it. Now Dr. Loh needs to act. He needs to announce that he is not retiring next year and will work with the regents and with the university community to fix the problems in the athletic department and continue the academic and economic progress which the university has made under his leadership."
Loh released a short statement Thursday.
“During Jim Brady’s three years leading the Board of Regents, I worked with him on a number of initiatives,” Loh said. “I thank him for his service to our state.”
In his statement, Brady acknowledged the differences of opinion, saying he “respected many people — including elected leaders, members of the public and members of the board — who disagreed with the recommendations a majority of this board ultimately made,” he said. “These were difficult decisions, based on information included in reports stemming from two investigations and a great deal of thought and deliberation...I understand that reasonable people could come to other conclusions.”
Brady was appointed to the board by Hogan and has served since 2015.
He has played roles in three gubernatorial administrations, serving on the transition teams for Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, and Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Hogan, both Republicans. Brady was secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, now known as the Department of Commerce, under Glendening during the late 1990s.
Before that, he worked for international accounting and consulting firm Arthur Andersen for 33 years, working as managing partner of its Long Island and Baltimore offices for half that time.
Brady remains involved in boards of Stevenson University, Center Stage, the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs and Leadership Maryland and sits on the Maryland Economic Development Commission. In the past, he has served in roles guiding the B&O Railroad Museum, Mount St. Mary's University, the Baltimore Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Dunbar Armored, T. Rowe Price Group, Constellation Energy Group and McCormick & Co.
Baltimore Sun reporters Talia Richman and Liz Bowie contributed to this article.