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Confirmation of Hogan's higher ed nominee in doubt

Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera

Gov. Larry Hogan's nomination of Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera to be Maryland's secretary of higher education has run into trouble in the General Assembly.

A key Senate committee has twice postponed votes on Hunter-Cevera's nomination to review complaints about her leadership years ago of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

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The latest delay came after Sen. Jamie Raskin, chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, said Monday he had received "more information" on Hunter-Cevera that he considered relevant to her qualifications to oversee the state's system of higher education, including public and private colleges and universities.

Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, declined to release or discuss the information. But former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings of Maryland said in an interview Tuesday that he had contacted the committee and Hogan's office to relay his concerns about her management of UMBI over a decade ago. Tydings said complaints about her came to his attention while he served on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents in 2001.

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"If they do any sort of research at all," Tydings said, "I think they'll find that the governor really should withdraw her name. Her record was not in my judgment one that would recommend her for this job."

Tydings said he objected to Hunter-Cevera's use of a consultant at the institute and to her management of efforts to apply and commercialize technology developed by university scientists. As an example, Tydings contended that Hunter-Cevera squelched a promising enterprise formed by a researcher from College Park.

"When she took over, she basically killed the company," Tydings said. "She was interested in bringing in a consultant from California to take over all patents, everything that was to be done."

Informed of Tydings' remarks, Raskin acknowledged that the former senator had contacted the committee.

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"Members certainly want to address his concerns," Raskin said.

Hunter-Cevera could not be reached for comment. A Hogan spokesman issued a statement supporting her, saying, "She is highly respected by her peers in both the private and public sectors.

"We look forward to seeing her confirmed by the Senate based on her extensive support and outstanding professional experience," said Doug Mayer, Hogan's deputy communications director.

Mayer declined to comment on Tydings' allegations, saying that "the best place to address those kinds of issues is in the Executive Nominations Committee."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller suggested Monday that the committee might want to hear from those who have brought forward complaints about Hunter-Cevera and to give her a chance to respond.

This is the second set of complaints about Hunter-Cevera's tenure at UMBI brought to Maryland lawmakers. On March 9, when she appeared before the Senate committee, Raskin asked her about a vote of no confidence by the research institution's faculty in 2009. More than 40 professors, associates and assistants signed a letter accusing her of "demonstrable failures," including negligible fundraising and making key decisions without regard for input from faculty or staff. They asked Chancellor William E. Kirwan to remove her.

Hunter-Cevera called the faculty complaints "exaggerated" and said they "balked" because she was pushing them to shift from traditional academic research to more practical studies aimed at economic development.

"I don't have any regrets about what we did at UMBI," she told the panel. "I will stand on my record of moving that university forward."

She said that after consulting with Kirwan she resigned from UMBI to take a management job with a nonprofit research institution.

Raskin said the Democratic-majority panel has gone along with all of Hogan's selections so far, "despite serious philosophical differences" with a few, because senators believe the governor has a right to pick his leadership team.

"But if there are serious disagreements that go beyond questions of philosophy," Raskin said, "we have to address them."

Raskin said the committee has received a number of letters of support for Hunter-Cevera. Anwer Hasan, chairman of the 11-member state higher education commission with which Hunter-Cevera would work, telephoned at the request of the governor's office to praise her credentials and her vision for making college more affordable and accessible.

Hunter-Cevera is the only one of Hogan's Cabinet secretaries whose nomination has not been confirmed or is on track for confirmation. The Senate panel agreed Monday to recommend four other top aides; a floor vote is expected soon.

It has been 12 years since the Senate last refused to confirm a Cabinet secretary. The Democratic-dominated chamber rejected Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's choice of Lynn Buhl to run the state Department of the Environment after environmentalists complained that she was not qualified to lead the regulatory agency. Ehrlich subsequently appointed Kendl Philbrick, who was confirmed.

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