The head of the Council of Presidents, which includes all the state’s 4-year public college presidents, asked state Higher Education Policy Commission board members to keep current HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill and specifically not appoint West Virginia Institute of Technology President Carolyn Long to the position.
The HEPC board, which oversees 4-year schools, is meeting on the chancellor issue 9 a.m. Tuesday in the 9th Floor conference room of Boulevard Tower, at 1018 Kanawha Blvd. East in Charleston.
“As President of the Council of Presidents and Co-Chair of the newly appointed Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education, I would like to let you know that the regional presidents endorse your proposed cancellation or postponement of the search for a new chancellor,” Kendra Boggess wrote July 3, according to an email obtained by the Gazette-Mail.
It was addressed to HEPC board Chairman Michael Farrell but also sent to the other HEPC board members, whom West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, another co-chair of the blue ribbon commission, has asked to appoint Long. Republican Gov. Jim Justice has created the blue ribbon commission to examine, among other things, “the role and value” of the HEPC, whose staff will assist with the panel’s work.
Boggess, who is also Concord University’s president, broadly confirmed the statement Friday, but declined to send the newspaper a copy of the email herself.
“We would also respectfully request that the [HEPC board] not appoint Carolyn Long from WVU Tech to the position,” the email said. “Carolyn is a respected member of the education community, but we feel strongly that there is a substantial conflict of interest which may create unnecessary challenges in the system, especially during this critical time.”
When asked what kind of conflict of interest, Boggess said, “I think if any of us were put in that position we would bring a commitment to our school. It would be hard not to, we could try, but it would be difficult.”
“We further understand Chancellor Hill has not stepped down nor resigned,” the email continued, “and that he is willing to continue to serve in these extraordinary circumstances. We fully endorse the continued leadership of Chancellor Hill at the HEPC, as he is independent and well qualified to continue.”
Boggess said that all public 4-year college presidents backed the statement except for the presidents of WVU, Marshall University and their branch campuses, who weren’t invited to the telephone meeting that resulted in the statement, and Glenville State College President Tracy Pellett. Boggess said she was unable to invite Pellett to participate in the late-night conference call because she didn’t have his cellphone number, and she felt a time crunch to get the statement out.
“I hope Paul continues as the chancellor for as long as he wants to do so and as long as it’s viable for him,” Pellett said of Boggess’ statement.
Regarding the portion of the statement about Long, Pellett said, “I don’t think it helps anybody when you attack a respected educator like Carolyn that has a long history of success and leadership in the state ... I didn’t think it was appropriate how the letter came out, I think it was misrepresentative [of his own view] and I didn’t think it was necessary in terms of pinpointing anybody.”
Glenville is the only college, aside from WVU and WVU Tech, that would lose money under HEPC staff’s proposed new 4-year college funding formula, which hasn’t been finalized.
Pellett said Glenville is also “in pretty serious discussions” with WVU to possibly have WVU professors teach nursing on Glenville’s campus, in order to provide WVU nursing bachelor’s degrees to students there, but he said neither that nor the funding formula were sources of his refusal to oppose Long’s appointment.
He said he thinks opposition to Long is reflective of some of the “resistance” that a recent report from the Colorado-based nonprofit National Center for Higher Education Management Systems suggested Concord University and Bluefield State College have to collaborating.
Shepherd University Executive Director of Communications Valerie Owens wrote in an email that Shepherd President Mary Hendrix supported Boggess’ statement. Owens also wrote that Hendrix “asked that I share the attachment and the information copied below.”
Copied into the email were brief biographies of Hill and Long, and the email attachment was a chart with columns comparing Hill’s education and experience to Long’s. Hill’s experience took up 33 lines, and Long’s took up nine, despite Hill’s column being slightly wider.
Long’s extensive preK-12 experience, including as Braxton County’s schools superintendent, was left off the chart, while some of Hill’s non-higher education experience was included.
Long’s bio on Tech’s website lists her first higher education work experience as becoming a WVU Board of Governors member in 2007, chairwoman of that board in 2008 and then transferring from chairwoman to Tech president in 2011.
A WVU Tech spokeswoman said late Friday afternoon that Long was off campus and unavailable to comment, and Hill didn’t return a request for an interview.
West Liberty University President Stephen Greiner wrote in an email that “I see no reason to appoint an interim chancellor, especially since Paul Hill had agreed to remain in the position until the conclusion of the search process.”
Other presidents that Boggess said backed the statement didn’t return requests for comment Friday.
According to the bios of HEPC board members on the HEPC website, six of the nine current members have connections to WVU, as either alumni or former WVU Board of Governors members. The only other schools to which there are listed ties are Marshall, Shepherd and Fairmont State University.
Justice and his chief of staff, Mike Hall, have said the blue ribbon commission will examine college funding and sustainability.
Farrell, the HEPC board chairman, cited Justice’s creation of the panel in announcing Monday that the HEPC board would meet this week on possibly suspending the current search for a new permanent chancellor.
Farrell expressed concern about finding a quality chancellor if “that person doesn’t know what the system looks like.” He said that structure might not be known until after working with the blue ribbon commission and, potentially, after action from the Legislature.
Boggess said she didn’t know Gee was asking HEPC board members to appoint Long as interim chancellor until Gee was asked about it at that same Monday news conference.
Reach Ryan Quinn at email@example.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.