CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The chairman of the Higher Education Policy Commission is pushing back on a panel appointed by Gov. Jim Justice and led by West Virginia University President Gordon Gee.
A letter from HEPC Chairman Michael Farrell warns about some possible actions by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education.
His letter singles out Gee.
“The Blue Ribbon Commission has the opportunity to conduct a deliberative, objective and open process during the next six weeks that will be respected by the Governor, Senate and House of Delegates,” Farrell writes.
“A recommendation to eliminate or cripple it by a $2 million reduction in its appropriations will not garner that respect.”
The $2 million reduction to the Higher Education Policy Commission has been discussed during recent meetings of the Blue Ribbon Commission. Under those discussions, the money would be redirected to regional colleges.
Farrell argues that money is pooled to provide services that benefit all of West Virginia’s colleges. He contends the $2 million is combined with an even greater amount of federal grant money to benefit all.
“Reducing the HEPC by $2 million will adversely impact every regional institution,” Farrell writes.
“If WVU and Marshall believe they do not want their share of services and grant dollars, then the regional colleges and universities should not be punished by underfunding the HEPC.”
The Blue Ribbon Commission meets by teleconference on Wednesday and then in person on Friday at Tamarack in Beckley for “an exchange of ideas about the future of West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission.”
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education was established in June by Governor Justice. He asked it to study ways for West Virginia to provide a more efficient and meaningful higher education system.
WVU’s Gee is the co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission, along with Marshall President Jerome Gilbert and Concord University President Kendra Boggess.
The first steps by the commission were to discontinue the search for a new chancellor, to move retiring chancellor Paul Hill to consultant status and to bring in Carolyn Long, former chairwoman of the WVU board of governors.
Many of the points Farrell makes in his letter take aim at Gee.
WVU officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I acknowledge that co-chairman Gee is not a fan of the HEPC,” Farrell writes. “The inquiry does not end with his opposition.”
Farrell, a former interim president at Marshall University, characterizes Gee as opposing the influence of the Higher Education Policy Commission.
“The clamor that it oppressively governs WVU is wrong and not factually supportable. The WVU Board of Governors governs WVU,” Farrell writes.
Some members of the Blue Ribbon Commission regularly refer to the HEPC as a ‘super governing body,’ though, Farrell writes.
“In fact, Blue Ribbon co-chairman Gee has used that term publicly and in media interviews during the last several weeks,” Farrell writes. “These comments are incorrect.”
Instead, a bill passed by the Legislature in 2017 has given higher education institutions — especially WVU, Marshall — greater flexibility and autonomy than ever, Farrell writes.
“It is most surprising that the suggestion by Co-Chair Gee to dismantled the HEPC has come upon the heels of the far-reaching freedoms granted by the Legislature last year to WVU and Marshall.”
Farrell suggests cutting or eliminating HEPC threatens the coordinating services it provides, as well as federal grant money it is able to draw down.
“Shifting HEPC functions from a state-level, statewide entity to individual institutions could allow institutions to put their own advancement ahead of the needs of the state as a whole, to the detriment of other institutions and taxpayers,” he writes.
He also suggests doing so would sever a trusted relationship with the Legislature.
“Shifting HEPC functions from a state-level, statewide entity to individual institutions could allow institutions to put their own advancement ahead of the needs of the state as a whole, to the detriment of other institutions and taxpayers,” Farrell writes.
He suggests the HEPC is trusted by legislators to provide objective information.
“Because WVU objects to submitting state-mandated reports through the HEPC is not a sufficient reason for the BRC to fall into a march that will be unsuccessful at the Legislature,” Farrell writes.