One of the University of Maryland’s admissions slogans is: “There is no better time to be a Terp.” In many ways this should be true: President Wallace Loh has shepherded the university to the best academic rankings in school history, overseen a building boom and ushered in major improvements to the surrounding community. But as a result of the university system Board of Regents’ decision Tuesday to retain football coach DJ Durkin, despite the death of a student player, forcing Mr. Loh to announce his retirement, this slogan feels further from the truth than ever.
Mr. Loh has since taken the initiative to fire Coach Durkin himself, and he is reportedly reconsidering his decision to retire. We join former Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the provost and deans of the University of Maryland, and scores of other Terps in urging him to stay on.
When Mr. Loh took the helm in 2010, he declared that he would take the University of Maryland to the next level; he delivered. In under a decade, President Loh elevated UMD from a good state school in a much-derided college town — known more for its student riots than any semblance of a restaurant or cultural scene — to a nationally renowned public university in one of the most economically diverse and vibrant communities in the D.C. metropolitan area.
Mr. Loh’s announcement Tuesday that he planned to “retire” at the end of the current academic year was the culmination of the regents’ prolonged and flawed investigation into the tragic death of Jordan McNair and the culture of Maryland’s football team that allowed it to happen. Media reports make it clear that Mr. Loh was being forced out by the regents because he wanted to move on from head football coach DJ Durkin.
To be clear, Mr. Loh’s response to McNair’s death was imperfect. But when it came time, Mr. Loh showed what it means to lead: He announced that “the university accepts legal and moral responsibility” for McNair’s death and took the steps needed to ensure that this tragedy would never repeat. He then sought to hold Coach Durkin — one of the most culpable individuals — accountable for his actions. Yet, because some regents are apparently “obsessed” with Mr. Durkin’s return, Mr. Loh is to be the one out of the job.
As student leaders during our time at Maryland, we hold Mr. Loh in the highest regard. He was always willing to hear, accept and reckon with criticism of any policy or university endeavor. He did not always agree with us or choose the path we thought was best for students, but it was clear to us that he took our concerns to heart and proceeded thoughtfully. Mr. Loh’s character — as the past 24 hours have demonstrated — is above reproach.
It comes as no surprise to us that “political outrage” erupted following the board’s announcement, with countless lawmakers and university stakeholders — including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and former Regents Board Chairman Jim Shea — coming to Mr. Loh’s defense over the past month. Nor is it a coincidence that one of the first and most vocal groups to come to Mr. Loh’s defense was a contingent of Prince George’s County lawmakers.
Mr. Loh’s retirement and the board’s desire to retain Coach Durkin were also met with media ridicule and — from our perspective — uniform outrage from the young alumni community. It seems to us that some of the only people who do not think the board has made a catastrophic error are its members.
Let’s not mince words: the regents did not demand Mr. Loh retire because of the football team’s culture. They are forcing his retirement because he wanted to hold Coach Durkin accountable for it — something the regents never intended to do. With its actions, the board lay bare its true motivations, academic excellence and student safety be damned.
Even if Coach Durkin would have been able to produce a football program with a team good enough to produce a 10-plus win season and sell enough tickets to actually run in the black, reversing a decades-long tradition of lackluster football and steadily declining fan interest, the cost of elevating athletics above academics is too high.
The regents have failed in their role. Students, faculty, administrators and alumni must now use their collective power to retain Mr. Loh. We urge the University of Maryland Senate, the elective body of students, faculty; staff and administrators to stand up in support of President Loh. It would be an incredible shame and disservice to the entire university community for his remarkable tenure to be to cut short.
Patrick Ronk (firstname.lastname@example.org) served as student body president of the University of Maryland from 2014-2016. Zachary Cohen (email@example.com) served as president of the University System of Maryland Student Council from 2012-2013.