Major University of Maryland donor asks Hogan, legislative leaders to support Loh

A donor whose name will grace a new $152 million computer science building at the University of Maryland, College Park has joined the chorus decrying the way the state’s Board of Regents handled the aftermath of a football player’s death.

In a letter delivered to Gov. Larry Hogan and legislative leaders Monday morning, Brendan Iribe, the co-founder of Oculus VR, urged the leaders to publicly support college President Wallace D. Loh. The president announced he would retire in June after the regents decided to retain football coach DJ Durkin, although the subsequent outrage led Loh to fire him.

“I’m committed to supporting the University of Maryland, provided the proper governance of the university is followed,” Iribe said in a letter to Hogan, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

“Alumni and corporate donors give based on a foundation of trust that the affairs of the university will be handled properly,” he wrote. “We must restore the integrity of the university system.”

Iribe, who graduated from Atholton High School in Howard County, attended College Park from the fall of 1997 to the spring of 1998. He dropped out to work as a game programmer and ultimately co-founded Oculus VR, which developed a virtual reality headset and was bought by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014.

He left Facebook last month, among a handful of heads of other Facebook-acquired companies like Instagram and WhatsApp. In an email to The Baltimore Sun, Iribe said he was speaking about College Park personally, not in connection with his roles at Oculus or Facebook.

Iribe is the latest donor to say the regents overstepped their authority by deciding last week to retain Durkin. The move roiled campus and beyond, as many thought the coach should be held accountable for the heatstroke death of player Jordan McNair, and what had been described as the football team’s “toxic” culture. Since then, the regents’ chairman, James T. Brady, resigned and many are urging Loh to reconsider his June retirement.

Karen Levenson, a major donor to the School of Public Policy, informed the regents last week she was cutting off funds until she was assured that the proper governance had been restored to campus. Both Iribe and Levenson are trustees of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, the school’s major fundraisers, which sent its own letter expressing outrage over the regents’ actions.

“Because of the improper handling, the credibility and reputation of the university have been jeopardized and we may have lost a great president,” Iribe wrote. “The president must be empowered to make personnel decisions in the best interest of the entire UMD community and its core mission to advance world-class academics. The Board of Regents must return to its legal and established governance practices.”

The letter urged Hogan, Miller and Busch to publicly support Loh, whom Iribe called “a transformative president” without whom the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation might never have gotten off the ground.

After Facebook bought Oculus, Iribe donated $31 million to the university to build the center and fund scholarships. The state later provided $104 million for the center.

“This April, we will cut the ribbon on a state-of-the-art computer science and engineering center that I have been proud to support. Your generous support of the project on behalf of the State of Maryland was instrumental and for that I am grateful,” Iribe said in his letter to the state officials. “Yet, without President Loh, this dream may never have become a reality.”

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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