Towson University president found guilty in absentia

Towson University President Maravene Loeschke

Towson University President Maravene Loeschke

Towson University President Maravene Loeschke was found guilty in absentia at an Annapolis show trial Wednesday, with Comptroller Peter Franchot as chief prosecutor and hanging judge.

“She should resign,” Franchot said after 90 minutes of testimony for which neither Loeschke nor the university provided any defense.

The charges warranting dismissal were that Loeschke unfairly shut down the baseball and soccer teams through a closed process and lied about why she did it. Then she announced the decision at a hastily called closed meeting accompanied by campus police.

Loeschke doesn’t show up, but accusers do

Loeschke was originally supposed to appear of Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Public Works to explain her decision. But as reported by Bryan Sears in Towson, she decided not to attend because the governor and the legislature had worked out a temporary solution, sending $300,000 to the university system to help deal with the problem of funding collegiate sports. The decision not to attend was probably another political misstep on Loeschke’s part.

Dozens of Towson baseball and soccer supporters had already prepared to testify at the regular board meeting, and almost all were critical of Loeschke, egged on by Franchot, who questioned her veracity and ability.

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Like Franchot, Gov. Martin O’Malley had initially been critical of Loeschke and then came up with some money to solve the problem. He then sat disengaged through most of the meeting he chairs, allowing Franchot to question the witnesses, and testify himself about the importance of college athletics, how much parents sacrifice, how badly the athletes were treated, and so on.

Kopp brings good sense into play

While the boys on the board were into this sports riff, the third member, State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, brought her usual even-handed good sense into play at the end.

“This is not an item before the Board of Public Works,” Kopp said after Franchot had rendered his verdict and sentence. “I obviously do not think this is the place for this item.”

“Where it should be … is before the Board of Regents” of the university system, Kopp said, the people appointed by the governor to run the four-year colleges and universities. It is they who appoint the university presidents and set the policy for the entire system.If there was to be a “trial” for Loeschke, it should have been conducted by the regents.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp

Treasurer Nancy Kopp

“I do wish the university had been represented,” Kopp said, and even Franchot agreed to that, though he might have used Loescke’s appearance to give her another tongue-lashing. (He was very dissatisfied after meeting with her in private several weeks ago.)

Actions and treatment of Loeschke and Loh in sharp contrast

At the end, O’Malley took back control of the meeting hijacked by Franchot, said he hoped the university system would come up with a policy. “Our desire is to have a clear policy here,” O’Malley said.

Loeschke has certainly made some missteps in the decision and then the announcement. In a similar situation, Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland College Park, handled the shuttering of eight different sports teams with a more open process, including a commission report and a press conference. Once the decision had been announced in a very open way, he even gave the teams the possibility of a financial reprieve to raise money, unrealistic as that may have been.

But in that move and his move to the Big Ten, no powerful state official was calling for his head the way the comptroller did for Loeschke.

Franchot has seriously undermined Loeschke’s authority and ability to govern a major state institution, one that supplies thousands of the state’s teachers and other members of its workforce. And all this happened over the fate of two amateur collegiate sports programs, however worthy they might be.

–Len Lazarick