When University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan announced that he planned to retire, the state's Board of Regents hired a firm to conduct a nationwide search to recruit a top-notch academic leader for what is and should be a plum post in American higher education. The firm forwarded the regents' search committee 50 names, which the committee narrowed down to 30, then 20, then nine, who received interviews. A final three appeared before the full Board of Regents. They picked Robert Caret, a candidate who combines years of familiarity with the Maryland system — he served as president of Towson University, among other posts — but also perspective from other states, most recently in a similar job in Massachusetts.

Mr. Caret accepted the offer, quit his job in Massachusetts and signed a contract with Maryland to begin on July 1. By Maryland law, it was the prerogative of the regents to make that decision, and they did it in accordance with all established precedents and procedures.


But Sen. Joan Carter Conway doesn't like it, and now she wants to change the rules to force Mr. Caret's appointment (and those of future chancellors) to go through confirmation in the state Senate. Her objection has nothing to do with the relationship between the regents and the state's elected officials or with any question about the process they use. It is, instead, quite personal.

Senator Conway has a beef against Mr. Caret because of his role a decade ago in establishing a joint MBA program between Towson and the University of Baltimore, which was eventually subject to litigation and a court ruling faulting Maryland for a history of weakening its historically black colleges and universities through unnecessary duplication of programs. At a bill hearing last week, she went on at great length about what an affront she thought it was for Mr. Caret to have been chosen, calling him the impetus for the litigation that has landed the Maryland Higher Education Commission in forced mediation with the HBCUs.

For the record, Towson, in the early 2000s, was the largest university of its type in the nation without an MBA program. Mr. Caret sought to partner with Morgan State University in that school's existing program. Morgan said no, so Mr. Caret sought a partnership with the University of Baltimore instead. UB said yes, and the higher education commission approved it. Mr. Caret was not trying to hurt Morgan, he was trying to serve his students.

Also, for the record, the search committee that selected Mr. Caret had nine members, three of whom were African-American, including the Rev. Frank Reid III, who called the process "extensive and detailed" and noted that it included consultation with the presidents of the three HBCUs in the university system.

But all that is beside the point. The issue here is not whether the regents "understand the history" of the HBCU lawsuit, as Senator Conway put it. The university system, the regents and the chancellor are not, in fact, parties to that case. The issue is whether the university system will be able to attract and retain top talent now and in the future. If Senator Conway's bill is successful, there's good reason to believe it won't.

Peter McPherson, the former president of Michigan State University and current president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, testified Thursday that, to his knowledge, no other state requires its university system chancellor to be confirmed by its legislature. In general, he said, the role of the regents to hire, evaluate and, if necessary, fire a chancellor is viewed as a critical element of good management. Rick Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards, a national group dedicated to fostering best practices in higher education governance, also said this legislation would give Maryland the "dubious distinction" of being the only one inserting the legislature into the chancellor selection process, a move that would inject politics into the process and diminish the standing and independence of the regents. Both said that the requirement would make it less likely that top notch candidates would consider Maryland in the future.

That should be obvious. What university president or system chancellor would give up his or her position to come to Maryland with the knowledge that the offer could evaporate in a cloud of politics? And who would choose to work in the one state that explicitly politicizes the job in this way rather than in one of the 49 states that preserve its independence?

The HBCU lawsuit is going to be settled in the courts and in mediation, not by the next chancellor. If Senator Conway's concern is the fair and equitable distribution of academic program within the system, rather than the punishment of someone with whom she once disagreed, this legislation will accomplish nothing. But it will weaken Maryland's system of higher education for years to come.