U-Md. regents’ Big Ten secret meetings potentially illegal

University of Maryland, College Park.

Last week, the University of Maryland’s Board of Regents held two conferences behind closed doors, and ultimately voted 13 to 1 to endorse U Maryland’s move to the Big Ten Conference. According to a Washington Post article, however, legal experts are calling such meetings illegal.

The university has decided to jump ship on the athletic league Atlantic Coast Conference, which it helped create, and intends to move to the Big Ten Conference.

Last week’s board meetings officially made this move, but now their legality is being called into question. The schools’ public governing board held these meetings and did not take notes or have documentation due to the “emergency nature” of the sessions.

“Those meetings — unannounced and entirely out of public view — appear to have been in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act, according to legal experts. The act lays out rules for gatherings of public entities such as the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, which the governor appoints to oversee most of the state’s public colleges and universities,” according to the Washington Post.

The Maryland Open Meetings Act is intended to keep the public informed of big policy changes, and to prevent the exact sort of thing the Board of Regents did.

The Board stated that the public was not wanted at the meetings because they were taking legal advice, but this does not account for why the vote to make the conference switch could not take place in public. The Board also failed to conduct a public vote before making the meeting secret, which is illegal.

“The law is unmistakable that you can’t just close the meeting because you feel like it,” said Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington County. The Post added that LoMonte believes that the Board’s vote may be voided.

The Washington Post reports that the school officials acted so hastily out of necessity, but the only specific explanation offered came from spokesman Mike Lurie, who stated that, “the emergency nature of the meetings related to the need to provide feedback to the University of Maryland, College Park, with respect to its application process with the Big Ten Conference.”

Lurie offered no further explanation as to the exact nature of this “emergency”, however. What is clear, though, is that the Board feared that the chance to join the Big Ten would expire.

Needless to say, U Maryland students and fans feel cheated out of the entire process, and wish that the Board were more open.

The Post quoted Regent Tom McMillen, the sole regent who voted against the proposal because of the meetings’ secrecy: “I thought we should have more of a process. The argument is that process kills the offer. I don’t necessarily buy that argument.”

Photo by Flickr user carmichaellibrary through Creative Commons License

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