The University of Maryland at Baltimore is reaching the final stage in its hunt for a new president, a choice many state officials hope will bring an end to a series of campus leadership troubles.
An ugly salary fight between the outgoing president and the dean of the medical school recently became public with the anonymous distribution of confidential letters.
The disclosures came nine months after the drawn-out firing of the head of the university-affiliated Maryland Shock Trauma Center and the resignation of President Errol L. Reese, apparently under pressure.
Some state officials are wondering how the discord might affect the search for a new president. The university is entering the final stage of the process, and Dr. Reese will leave the $175,000-a-year job at the end of the month. The Board of Regents will make its decision early next year.
"We suffer outside this state with UMAB," said Shaila R. Aery, state secretary of higher education. "My understanding is that it's perceived as not a stable institution" because of the repeated leadership troubles.
The dissonance may be partly due to the nature of UMAB, which is more a collection of seven competing professional and graduate schools than a typical college. The campus, with 5,200 students and an annual budget of $313 million, comprises schools of law, medicine, pharmacy, social work, nursing and dentistry, as well as a graduate program affiliated with the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
"One of the problems is that the deans act like a College of Cardinals," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, whose appropriations subcommittee oversees UMAB's budget. "That makes governance difficult."
The president is theoretically in charge, but some deans have developed strong power bases on campus and in political circles.
Only an outsider could retain command, said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, a key legislator on education. "Whoever they get from the inside will get eaten alive."
George V. McGowan, chairman of the UM Board of Regents, acknowledged that the leadership troubles are "not positive." But, he added: "I think, for the most part, candidates for positions such as we're looking for kind of decide they can play their own game once they get there and don't get too bogged down on what's gone on before."
But Ms. Hoffman said that the UM Board of Regents may have set a bad precedent when it did not give public support to Dr. Reese in the fallout from his recent salary fight with Dr. Donald E. Wilson, the medical school dean.
"My concern is that if you allow the dean of the medical school or anybody not to follow the rules, how will you get a president to run the place?" she said.
The fight began in May when Dr. Reese denied Dr. Wilson a raise of 4.25 percent in his salary of $302,500, the highest of any state employee. Dr. Wilson went over the president's head to Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University of Maryland system, and, while awaiting a response, put in the paperwork for his own raise. The raise somehow went into effect July 1 without %J approval from the president or chancellor.
In August, an apparently angry Dr. Reese canceled the raise, ordered Dr. Wilson to repay it and asked the state attorney
general's office to investigate. Dr. Wilson repaid about $2,000, and investigators determined that no law had been broken.
Dr. Reese and Dr. Wilson declined to discuss the pay dispute.
After the dispute became public, the regents and Dr. Langenberg said in a statement that while "university procedures may not have been fully adhered to, there was no wrongdoing that might warrant disciplinary action." The regents and the chancellor went on to praise Dr. Wilson.
UMAB's image was tarnished earlier -- in late 1989 -- when its highly touted president designate, Dr. Augustus A. White III of Harvard University, chose to remain at Harvard after hearing of regents' plans to withdraw some programs.
Dr. Reese, who was the dental school dean and chairman of the search committee, volunteered for the job and took over in late 1990.
Although few knew it, Dr. Reese and the regents agreed then that he would be a caretaker president, according to Dr. Langenberg.
One of Dr. Reese's main goals was to give the diverse schools a unified identity. It wasn't easy.
The law school, for example, balked at his insistence that it put UMAB on its diplomas, and members of the General Assembly were dragged into the flap. Dr. Reese backed down, and the diplomas once again say University of Maryland.
His biggest problems, however, seemed to have grown out of his poor relationship with Dr. Wilson, the man he hired to run the medical school 2 1/2 years ago. Dr. Wilson, whom some consider a star of the UM system, threatened to quit because of conflicts with Dr. Reese, particularly regarding cuts to the medical school budget, sources said.
Concerned that Dr. Wilson might leave, some lawmakers complained to Dr. Langenberg late last year.
Other Baltimore leaders pressed Dr. Langenberg about various concerns they had about UMAB. One target was Dr. Reese's suggestion to merge the law school with that of the University of Baltimore a mile away.
"We had a fairly steady stream of unsolicited advice from practically everybody with respect to UMAB," Dr. Langenberg said recently. "What goes on at UMAB seems to be of interest to practically all of the leading citizens of Baltimore."
Another disruption was the plan to combine UMAB with UMBC, floated by Dr. Reese and others but shot down in the legislature.
The regents and Dr. Langenberg, who was said to be unhappy with Dr. Reese's "style," concluded in February that Dr. Reese should step down.
"We felt, all things considered, looking at everything, that we ought to begin winding down [Dr. Reese's tenure] by the end of the year," Mr. McGowan said.
Dr. Reese said last week that his March resignation was his own idea.
Mark A. Sargent, a law school professor and chairman of the presidential search committee, said he isn't worried that the problems between Drs. Wilson and Reese would "turn off" presidential prospects.
"Many of our candidates have already figured out that the relations between the president and the dean of the medical school were not good," he said. "We'll deal with it forthrightly and see how it works out."
While declining to name them, Mr. Sargent said the search has turned up many good candidates.
"People may still be saying that we started off with this cloud hanging over us, that nobody would want that job, there's been too much conflict," Mr. Sargent said. "But the absolute opposite has happened."