Governor's interest could chill UM search


As it enters a critical stage, the search for the next head of the University System of Maryland is burdened by a perception that Gov. Parris N. Glendening is a favored candidate for the $345,000- a-year job.

Higher-education experts and recruitment consultants say speculation about the governor's interest is spreading into the national pool of university administrators who would be qualified for the post -- with negative consequences.

"I've been asked to suggest names [of candidates], and I've been reluctant because I don't want to suggest anybody out of concern that it's a done deal," said C. Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

Although he's not currently an applicant to be the system's next chancellor, Glendening has not ruled out seeking the job. He has said that a higher education post would be one of his top choices after leaving office, along with an environmental position. As governor, he has appointed or reappointed every current member of the state Board of Regents, the body that will chose the chancellor.

Michael Morrill, the governor's communications director, said Glendening will begin to examine options after the legislative session ends in April -- shortly before Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg is due to resign, but three months after the regents hope to name a new leader. Glendening is entering the final year of his second term and cannot seek re-election.

"He has not made a decision on what to pursue yet," Morrill said. "He has not opened any doors yet, but he has not closed any, either, and I'm not going to do that for him."

Leaving the door open, it seems, will affect the search just as advertisements for the position start to appear.

At best, experts say, the regents and their consultant face a chore convincing leading applicants they stand a fair chance at getting the job.

At worst, today's political scuttlebutt could turn into tomorrow's self-fulfilling prophecy if quality competition evaporates and leaves Glendening as the best available candidate.

'Scare away' candidates

"Yes, it is out there. I'm not even a Maryland resident, and I've heard it," said Theodore J. Marchese, a managing director with Academic Search Consultation Service in Washington, which is not directly involved in the Maryland process. "It will scare away other candidacies. No question about it."

Academic recruiters and others say leading university administrators are reluctant to apply for jobs if their chances are poor. Names of finalists inevitably become public, potentially damaging their reputations at their home institutions.

"The higher the level, the more someone has to lose in coming forward openly," said Judith A. Auerbach of Auerbach Associates, a Boston search consulting firm. "They want to protect their existing position."

But the regents insist that the search process is inclusive and open.

They say an 18-member search committee -- including five regents as well as business executives and university faculty members and administrators -- was designed to ensure fairness.

The committee is working from a 17-page description of an ideal leader and has hired a nationally known search consultant. R. William Funk of Korn/Ferry International in Dallas is being paid $90,000 to solicit and screen applicants. The search committee hopes to name a chancellor by Dec. 31 -- an aggressive timetable that some feel is unrealistic.

Advertisements in the Chronicle of Higher Education and other journals will begin to run this week, with an early December deadline for application materials.

'Deck is not stacked'

"There's been a lot of talk about the governor being a potential candidate, but I can tell you definitively that, to use your phrase, the deck is not stacked," said William T. Wood, an attorney who is on the Board of Regents.

"If he chooses to apply, he'll go through the process like all other candidates," Wood said. "If you look at the composition of the search committee, you will come away with the inescapable conclusion that it is a fair committee."

Other regents say privately that Glendening would not be their first choice for the job, and some say that the governor's interest may be overstated.

"Persons close to the governor feel that he really doesn't want this and would rather have other opportunities, " said former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, another regent.

Glendening has focused on anti-sprawl initiatives, and some believe the governor would prefer a job at the helm of a national or international foundation that advances Smart Growth or conservation policies.

Magrath, Marchese and others note that as a former professor with a long career in public service, Glendening is no doubt qualified for the chancellorship. If he does apply, he'd immediately become a leading candidate -- for both political and professional reasons.

Ties to each regent

In his seven years as governor, Glendening has had the chance to appoint -- and sometimes reappoint -- each regent. Some selections, critics contend, are more noteworthy for their ties to the governor than their reputation as supporters of public university education.

"Any time he puts somebody on the Board of Regents who doesn't belong there, they are that much more indebted to him," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House Republican whip from Howard County.

Says Auerbach, the Boston consultant: "It has a chilling effect, but it has nothing to do with whether or not he may be a superb candidate. Because he appointed the regents, there is inevitably an appearance of conflict, and there is no getting around that it is a sticky situation."

Glendening taught political science at the state's flagship campus, College Park, for 27 years. As governor, he packed his state budgets with healthy funding for secondary education and made the subject a priority during his recent tenure at the helm of the National Governors Association.

With his academic background and Annapolis experience, "people are betting that a Glendening chancellorship would be good for the university," said James Gimpel, an associate professor of government and politics at College Park. "The conventional campus wisdom is he's destined for the chancellorship of the University of Maryland system."

Appearances of political favoritism, Gimpel said, don't seem to bother people.

"We're still considered, in some parts of the state, to have political machines," he said. "People shrug and say, 'That's the way Maryland politics works.'"

Created in 1988 through a legislative reorganization and decentralization of the university system, the chancellor's job carries responsibilities that are somewhat vague. Some call the chancellor a "first among equals" in coordinating and communicating among 13 campus presidents. He or she is charged with creating and conveying a vision for the system and with getting money from the General Assembly.

In addition to its handsome salary -- Langenberg will receive $345,740 this year, and his successor could earn more -- the position comes with use of a historic mansion in Baltimore County known as Hidden Waters. Glendening earns $120,000 as governor.

Tensions, contradictions

A leadership statement adopted by the regents reveals many of the tensions and contradictions in the job, reflecting uncertainty about whether the system should stay as it is or decentralize further.

Some lines in the statement seem created to fit the governor: "Comfort and pleasure in the political arena and skills in its use are prerequisites for this chancellor."

But in other areas, he appears to fall short. He is probably not, as the leadership statement calls for, an "articulate educator, already recognized as an important thinker in the arena of early 21st century academia and public policy" who will "attract the attention and respect of the academic, political, and corporate communities."

In many circles, the governor is not particularly well-liked. He is respected, even feared -- he wields control of the state budget and is about to carve new legislative and congressional districts.

But some of the animosity toward Glendening could cause problems if part of his next job is seeking money from the legislature.

Some say that if the university system is looking for a world-class leader, it should look beyond the sitting governor.

"He's not a known quantity. He's known only in Maryland," said Magrath, the state universities association president. "My impression is he is regarded as having been ... a good governor in terms of higher education. He doesn't have a negative reputation, but he wouldn't be known nationally in terms of higher education."

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