- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

University of Maryland officials Thursday repudiated remarks school Vice President Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat and former gubernatorial candidate, made to the The Washington Times that the governor’s office threatened retaliation against him and the school if he participated in an event with former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Sources familiar with the situation told The Times that university officials called in Mr. Duncan and dressed him down before issuing the statement, which said Mr. Duncan now understands that he “misinterpreted informal advice from a friend and colleague as an official directive.”

Mr. Duncan did not return phone calls from The Times on Thursday. But earlier in the week he said he had been told by P.J. Hogan, an associate vice chancellor at the university, “I cannot go and talk about presidential politics at the same time as Bob Ehrlich.” He added that Mr. Hogan told him the governor’s office threatened to take away his job and funding for university construction projects.

Mr. Duncan said he had understood Mr. Hogan was carrying a message from the office of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

University officials did not return calls about this story, and a university spokesman would not answer questions, instead directing a reporter only to the statement issued late Thursday.

“Recent media reports have resulted in the circulation of inaccurate information about a personal meeting between P.J. Hogan and Doug Duncan,” said University of Maryland spokesman Millree Williams in a statement. “Hogan offered some advice to Duncan related to making the transition from being an elected official to a non-elected state employee. Duncan recognizes now that he misinterpreted informal advice from a friend and colleague as an official directive. [He] has apologized to Hogan for the misunderstanding and takes full responsibility for the misunderstanding and the resulting confusion. They have shaken hands, put the incident behind them, and are continuing their work together.”

The O’Malley administration said it knew nothing about the dust-up.

“The Governor doesn’t care one way or the other,” said spokesman Rick Abbruzzese in an e-mailed statement. “In fact, I’m not sure he is even aware of the issue.”

Mr. Duncan’s supporters, Thursday, said they saw “no harm to the university, no harm to O’Malley” in him appearing at the Hagerstown, Md., dinner with Mr. Ehrlich.

“There’s a danger on the part of the university of appearing to politicize the situation,” said Montgomery County Councilman George M. Leventhal.

Mr. Duncan met with University System Chancellor William E. Brit Kirwan, University of Maryland President C. Daniel Mote Jr. and Mr. Hogan on Thursday morning, said sources familiar with the meeting who asked to remain anonymous.

Mr. Hogan, a former state senator, did not return calls or an e-mail seeking comment for this story. He told The Times on Wednesday, however, that Mr. Duncan needed to work on making the transition from elected official to university administrator and that appearing at political events presented a bad perception.

“They don’t want to give Ehrlich any kind of platform,” Mr. Duncan said earlier in the week. “They thought it was too political.”

Mr. Duncan ran against Mr. O’Malley in the 2006 gubernatorial primary but withdrew from the race citing depression. Mr. O’Malley went on to win the Democratic primary and defeat Mr. Ehrlich in the general election.

Although Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Ehrlich have frequently criticized each other in public, Mr. Duncan has maintained a low profile, occasionally speaking before small groups and teaching university courses.

Mr. Hogan, a former state senator, said he’s had to curtail much of his political work since taking the job representing the university system last year. Although university officials have occasionally appeared at highly politicized events in the past.

Mr. Hogan’s predecessor, Joseph F. Bryce, attended the Republican National Convention in 2004 and mingled with Mr. Ehrlich and then-Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

“I think people know me and view me as a person who works on policy issues and has worked for Democrats and worked well with Republicans,” Mr. Bryce told the Gazette of Business and Politics in 2004. “What’s not to like when your lieutenant governor is speaking, Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani are sitting 20 feet behind you and the governor is sitting four seats away from you? It was a great experience.”

The university system , under the guidance of its governing Board of Regents, recently voted to support Mr. O’Malley’s plan to legalize slot machines, which will go before voters in November.

State leaders are facing a new, $432 million budget shortfall, and will be looking for areas to cut spending over the next few months. Higher education spending accounts for one of the largest pools of discretionary funding, and was a target for cuts during the Ehrlich administration.

“USM and UMCP recognize and honor Maryland state employees’ right to freely participate in any personal political activity during time outside of working hours,” Mr. Williams said in the statement.

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