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Regents, Loh need to come clean about the future of UM

If Wallace Loh wants to rescind his announced retirement and stay on as president of the University of Maryland past June, he needs to say so. If the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents wants him to stay, they need to say so too — and explain how they came to that conclusion in light of the dysfunction in the Athletic Department that contributed to football player Jordan McNair’s death last year.

Unfortunately, no one involved seems interested in doing any such thing. The regents are scheduled to meet today to discuss the matter but only in a closed session.

We voice our concern not because we have a preconceived notion about whether his continued leadership of the university is in Maryland’s best interests or whether he deserves some share of the blame for what led up to and followed after McNair’s death. How could we? There has been almost no public discussion of either question since the dramatic events of last October when the regents initially retained football coach DJ Durkin at the expense of Mr. Loh’s departure and, after Gov. Larry Hogan stepped in to object, Mr. Loh fired Mr. Durkin anyway. Welcome as it was, that didn’t settle everything.

Did Mr. Loh’s decision to move the university from its long-time home in the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big 10 contribute to a win-at-all-costs mentality in the football program that manifested itself in coaches pushing players beyond their limits and a reluctance among players to speak out? Did he exercise sufficient oversight of an athletic department riven with infighting, blurred lines of authority and poor communications?

Or, conversely, did Mr. Loh take the appropriate steps after McNair’s death to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy, investigate its causes and assume appropriate responsibility? We certainly understand the McNair family’s perspective on Mr. Loh’s August news conference in which he, on the university's behalf, accepted moral and legal responsibility for the player’s death. Do the regents feel the same way?

And on balance, do Mr. Loh’s other accomplishments — an improvement in the University of Maryland’s national standing, redevelopment on and around campus, good relations with the state’s political leaders and prodigious fundraising — outweigh any blemishes from his handling of athletics in general and McNair’s death in particular?

Those are not easy questions with obvious answers, and if the regents have been seeking to resolve them, it is not at all apparent. Nor is it clear that they are committed to moving on; members either would not answer or did not respond to Sun reporter Kevin Rector's questions about the leadership of UM. Neither did system Chancellor Robert Caret. The most anyone would say is that a search for his replacement has not yet begun. Even Governor Hogan, who three months ago raised pointed questions about Mr. Loh’s role in the McNair tragedy, has clammed up. A spokeswoman declined to comment about the matter.

All this could add up to a number of things, and none of them serve the public. Are there some sort of secret negotiations going on aimed at keeping Mr. Loh as president? Are the regents divided on the question and battling it out in private? Has some effort been made to quietly evaluate Mr. Loh’s handling of events leading up to and following McNair’s death? Are the regents planning today to officially launch a search or to forego one? Are we approaching the point at which the calendar will make the decision by default? Conducting a search for a major university president and arranging an orderly transition takes time.

The University of Maryland at College Park is one of the state's most important institutions, and the public has a massive stake in its success or failure. This is far more than a garden variety personnel matter. It’s about both the responsibility for the senseless death of a young man and the leadership of one of Maryland’s chief economic drivers. We have a right to know what’s going on here.

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