Before entering into serious talks with the Big Ten, Maryland president Wallace D. Loh signed a non-disclosure agreement pledging to keep details out of public view.
Such agreements are not uncommon these days as schools negotiate to switch conferences.
But Tom McMillen, a member of the Board of Regents and former Maryland basketball star, said in an interview that he’s concerned that confidentiality agreements squelch public debate that is appropriate and necessary before schools make such big decisions.
In Maryand’s case, McMillen said the regents were denied the chance to hear from affected parties because the non-disclosure agreement restricted who could know what was unfolding. He said the school couldn’t discuss its plans with the Atlantic Coast Conference, the league to which it had belonged for nearly 60 years.
In a response to the Baltimore Sun, Maryland confirmed that Loh signed a non-disclosure agreement.
“A lawyer from the Big Ten went over it with President Loh, and our own legal counsel reviewed it, prior to signing,” the school said. “As I’m sure you know, conferences are not public organizations. For discussions that include detailed financial information and other sensitive information, no conversation would have occurred without that signed agreement. This is certainly no different than similar discussions with the ACC.”
McMillen said the agreement gave the Big Ten control of the process, allowing the conference to dictate terms to Maryland by “highjacking” debate.
He said regents should have had more information before deciding whether to endorse Loh’s decision to move to the Big Ten.
“You get more documentation when you buy a cell phone,” McMillen said.
The Student Press Law Center has also questioned whether the Board of Regents violated Maryland's open-meeting laws during closed discussions about the Big Ten.
"The purposeful exclusion of the public from the Board's deliberations reflects a disturbing indifference to the transparency obligations that accompany governance of a public institution," Student Press Law Center director Frank D. LaMonte wrote.
In a prepared statement, regents board chair James L. Shea and Chancellor William E. (Brit) Kirwan on Wednesday defended the board’s process.
“Some … are reporting that the USM Board of Regents is not allowed to vote in closed session. That is inaccurate. The Maryland Open Meetings Act does not preclude public boards from taking action in closed session,” Shea and Kirwan said in a joint statement.
The board's closed-door vote on Monday was to endorse Maryland's decision to join the Big Ten.
But the regents did not have the final authority.
"This is a decision that was the responsibility of the president’s,” Kirwan said in an interview earlier in the week.. “But the president isn’t going to make a decision of this magnitude unless he has the support of the chancellor and the Board of Regents. That’s why we used the term ‘endorsed.’ ”
Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.