ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A Maryland Senate panel wants to cut $1 million from the state university system’s top office in the contentious aftermath of a football player’s death and a separate case in which the system’s chancellor promoted a jewelry company’s charm bracelets and then retaliated against his chief of staff for raising an ethics concern.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee approved the cut Thursday because of “a general sense of a lack of transparency and accountability,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, a member of the panel.
He added in an interview that the Board of Regents and system office of the University System of Maryland “have to understand that they’re not a private corporation.”
“This is an urgent problem,” Ferguson said. “It’s time to take notice. Our university system is one of our most treasured assets. The state of governance at the moment is totally unacceptable, and things have to change.”
The committee’s recommendation would have to be approved by the Senate and then the House.
The system did not have an immediate comment.
Last year, the chairman of the Board of Regents, James Brady, resigned following the furor over a decision to reinstate football coach DJ Durkin in the aftermath of the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair. The board’s decision to reinstate the coach drew harsh criticism from students, players and state politicians. As a result, university President Wallace Loh fired Durkin in October.
The uproar prompted lawmakers to push for increased transparency for board meetings and actions relating to employment of university presidents or the chancellor.
Last week, The Associated Press reported on emails and documents showing Chancellor Robert Caret promoted charm bracelets on behalf of Pandora Jewelry in a 2017 email to three university presidents outside of Maryland.
Caret told the AP last week that he should not have sent the email, but that he notified the state Ethics Commission. He did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.
In response to the chancellor’s actions, the Senate budget committee also decided Thursday to withhold $200,000 until the system reports on Caret’s outside income, dating back to the time he made the promotion on behalf of a former official at Pandora Jewelry.
In his email promoting the products, Caret wrote that the Pandora official “has become a good friend of mine” and “asked if I could share this opportunity with you.”
The email was so unusual it prompted former University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan to wonder if Caret’s email account had been hacked. She emailed his chief of staff, Janice Doyle, to verify its authenticity.
Caret told Doyle he had sent the message from his Gmail account. Doyle later said in a written grievance that when she considered it in the context of two Paul McCartney tickets Caret received in 2016 from the Pandora official, and an invitation to the 2017 Johns Hopkins Golf Classic, she raised an ethics concern.
After Doyle spoke to an assistant state attorney general and repeatedly urged Caret to talk with Brady, the Regents chairman, Caret sent Doyle a job performance assessment questioning her ability to continue as his chief of staff.
After learning from Brady that Caret was going to remove her as chief of staff, Doyle told Brady she might have to file a grievance. The following day, Caret reversed the negative performance assessment. Doyle was then informed that Caret decided to keep her as chief of staff.
Without an apology or other assurance that she would not face further retaliation, she filed a grievance. In November 2017, Doyle agreed to a settlement signed by Caret.
Last week, current Regents Chair Linda Gooden said that after learning of the email Caret sent, the board decided in 2017 to make ethics a part of Caret’s annual job performance review.
Ferguson was particularly critical of the retaliation, saying Doyle’s response was “exactly what we want public employees to do when unethical behavior happens.”
“It’s unacceptable,” Ferguson said.
Doyle said Friday that she believes the Regents should review the chancellor’s performance again in light of the added information about the retaliatory behavior and the settlement.
“Secondly, there should be some way to insure that a chancellor cannot cover up this kind of behavior — that there should be sufficient oversight so that this doesn’t happen in the future,” she wrote in an email.