University of Maryland regents approved move to Big Ten in closed session

MARYLAND — University System of Maryland regents voted behind closed doors Monday to approve a move to the Big Ten athletic conference, despite state laws requiring the regents to open their meetings to the public.

According to published reports, members of the University of Maryland governing board conducted a telephone conference call Sunday and met in person early Monday morning to discuss the school’s decision to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference. Both meetings were closed to the public and held without written notification.

The secret meetings violate Maryland’s open meetings law, which require reasonable advance notice of meetings, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. In addition, the law allows public bodies to close their meetings only under certain limited circumstances, LoMonte said.

LoMonte explained his concerns with the group’s actions in a letter to the school’s president and board chairman Tuesday.

Maryland law allows for a meeting to be closed for board members to obtain legal advice but not to conduct a vote based on the advice received, LoMonte said.

“The vote is probably legally void if it was done in an illegally closed meeting,” he said “But it still should have been done out in the open.”

It’s not clear whether the regents’ vote was required, or whether the school’s president could have acted alone. Maryland law suggests that regents have to approve contracts, or they can delegate that authority to the president, LoMonte said.

Leaving the ACC will cost taxpayers an estimated $50 million “exit fee.”

A spokesman for the University of Maryland referred questions on the matter to officials with the university system, who could not be reached for comment.

Jenna Johnson, a higher education reporter for The Washington Post, said she asked where the meeting was being held but wasn’t told until after the meeting was over.

“As a reporter it is my job to figure out what’s going on and relay that information to our readers,” Johnson said. “It’s very frustrating to know that a public board is meeting and to ask public officials ‘where are they meeting, where are they meeting’ and to not be told is very frustrating.”

Senior school officials misled reporters into believing that the meeting was being held at the student center at the University of Baltimore, Johnson wrote on her Washington Post blog Monday.

When regent Patricia Florestano arrived at the student center, she told reporters that she had just left “a full board meeting” where the board endorsed the university’s decision to move to the Big Ten, according to the blog.

By Samantha Raphelson and Bailey McGowan, SPLC staff writers. Contact Raphelson by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 126.