A retired Lockheed Martin executive will assume leadership of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, facing an uphill battle to regain public trust after the way the governing body handled the investigations into the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair.
Linda Gooden’s first public act as chair was to apologize for the way the board bungled its responsibilities related to the athletic department scandal in College Park.
The 17-member board has spent the past several weeks overseeing two investigations into the heatstroke death of McNair, an offensive lineman at the University of Maryland. After the investigations concluded, former chair James Brady announced a series of controversial personnel recommendations during a news conference last week: Head football coach DJ Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans were to remain in their positions, and university President Wallace Loh was to retire at the end of the school year. Loh eventually defied the regents’ recommendations, and a day after Durkin was reinstated, he was fired.
Brady, a former campaign chairman for Gov. Larry Hogan, stepped down last week, saying his continued presence on the board would be a distraction. On Wednesday, Gooden addressed the issue head-on.
“While the board’s decision was far from unanimous, and many members voted a different way, everyone on the board now understands that the board’s personnel recommendations were wrong,” Gooden, 65, said in a statement. “For that, we apologize to the McNair family, the University of Maryland, College Park community, and to the citizens of our state.”
Many have slammed the regents over the last few weeks for their attempts to interfere in campus-level decisions. The furor set off a chain reaction that threatened the fundraising efforts and reputation of the state flagship. Many wondered what type of message it sent that, after a football player’s death, the board tried to push out the president, rather than the football coach.
While the board is authorized to hire and fire university presidents, regents are not supposed to intervene in other personnel matters.
Lawyer Jim Shea, who served as chair before Brady, warned that such actions “disrupt the important relationships between the regents and all system institutions. It would also make it difficult to recruit faculty and staff to campuses if the Board of Regents began hiring and firing campus employees themselves.”
Gooden said that, under her leadership, “this board will accomplish that goal by recommitting to the principle of shared governance.”
The Board of Regents oversees the university system’s academic, administrative and financial operations. It sets policy and appoints presidents for each of the 12 public institutions under the system umbrella. Members are unpaid and chosen by the governor. Gooden is one of the few remaining appointees from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration, though she was reappointed by Hogan in 2014.
Gooden, the board’s former assistant treasurer, will be the public face for a number of high-profile decisions. The board will soon begin a search for the next University of Maryland president.
She said she planned to meet with “stakeholders in Annapolis and at the University of Maryland, College Park and across the system.”
Loh said in a statement that he looks forward to working with her. The board will oversee the reforms Loh has committed to in the wake of McNair’s death and subsequent revelations about rampant dysfunction in his athletic department.
The regents largely work out of the spotlight, barring a scandal like the McNair tragedy. Now, that quiet existence doesn’t seem likely to return for the foreseeable future.
A coalition of College Park student groups is demanding the Board of Regents “be amended to constitute a democratically elected body, through a process in which students are actively included.” They also are demanding a seat at the table when the regents search for Loh’s successor.
Shea, who previously served with Gooden on the board, said she is a “good thinker and a steady hand.”
The regents’ choice sends a signal that they are “reassessing to some degree,” he said. Gooden will have to steer the board through difficult times.
“Her challenge is [to] organize and lead a group of people who are well-meaning and want to do the right thing, but have had trouble in recent weeks,” Shea said. “She has to reestablish the regents as a unit and have them focus on what they need to do to make the system better.”
Vice-chair Barry Gossett had served briefly in an interim capacity since Brady’s retirement, and some thought he was well positioned to take over the board permanently.
Gossett, 78, is a longtime College Park booster who has given tens of millions of dollars to the state flagship and its athletics program. The team’s field house bears his name.
An administrator at another system campus expressed concerns that Gossett’s priorities were too visibly aligned with College Park and football.
Gooden, an Annapolis resident, also has some ties to College Park. She has served on several executive boards, including for the University of Maryland’s engineering and business colleges. She’s also served on a University of Maryland, Baltimore County board and the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.
She is a graduate of Ohio’s Youngstown State University, and has an MBA from the University of Maryland University College, according to a biography provided to The Baltimore Sun. She has been awarded an honorary degree from Drexel University.
UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III said he and his colleagues have a “great deal of respect” for Gooden as a thinker and a leader.
“She is interested in supporting all of the campuses in the system,” he said. “She is someone who has been known to be fair to all of us. She is highly regarded in the corporate community. She brings that experience from the business community.”
Gooden was appointed by then-President Barack Obama to the National Secure Telecommunications Advisory Council in 2010. Her resume boasts awards including U.S. Black Engineer and IT Black Engineer of the Year. Fortune magazine named Gooden as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Business for the three consecutive years.
She declined through a university spokesman to be interviewed Wednesday.