The University of Maryland College Park was placed on warning this week by its accrediting agency, which cited concerns about transparency in governance.
The decision to place the campus on warning came after a Thursday meeting of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which concluded that College Park’s “accreditation may be in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence that the institution is currently in compliance” with governance standards.
The university remains accredited while on warning, and must submit a monitoring report by March 1, demonstrating that it is in compliance with the commission’s Standard VII, requiring that the College Park campus is able to “operate as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy.”
Colleges and universities must be accredited by a recognized commission for students to receive federal financial aid. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education sets uniform standards for quality at college campuses and reviews adherence to those standards on an eight-year cycle.
The university’s accreditation was placed under an early review last November, in the aftermath of a series of personnel moves related to the death of football player Jordan McNair that attracted scrutiny and exposed an apparent rift between former members of the Board of Regents and College Park President Wallace Loh.
In the months since, a Washington Post investigation unearthed questions about the timing and transparency of College Park officials’ response to an adenovirus outbreak that claimed the life of a campus freshman, Olivia Paregol.
After being placed under review, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents undertook an independent review of its governance structure and operation for the first time in more than 20 years.
A report from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges concluded that the Regents lacked transparency and leadership after McNair’s death and too frequently operated out of the public eye. Since the report was received April 19, the Regents have met in closed session twice to discuss the AGB recommendations and three times to discuss potential litigation at the College Park campus.
During the 2019 General Assembly session, lawmakers passed legislation to provide greater transparency at the Board of Regents including additional members, livestreaming and dedicated time for public comment at meetings. The bill takes effect July 1.
Part of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education action on Thursday was “to remind the institution of its obligation to inform the Commission immediately about any and all significant developments relevant to this action.”
Margaret M. McMenamin, chair of the commission issued a statement following the action.
She said an accreditation team visiting the campus identified concerns about governance that were significant enough that the commission chose to place the institution on warning. Another follow-up visit will take place after the university’s monitoring report is due March 1. College Park officials will also be required to host a commission liaison in the fall to discuss the accrediting agency’s expectations.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents Chair Linda Gooden, Chancellor Robert Caret and Loh issued a joint statement late Friday night.
The Board of Regents, University System of Maryland and College Park campus “are committed to working together to ensure that the governance structure clearly specifies the roles, responsibilities, and accountability of each constituency and that these are in full alignment” with Middle States Commission standards, the leaders said, in part. “…Moreover, that there is periodic assessment of the effectiveness of governance, leadership, and administration in accordance with Standard VII. Progress towards full compliance is already underway and will be completed by March 1, 2020.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated with a response from the University System of Maryland.