M.B.A. dispute awaits faculty

WVU senate to hear provost on inquiry into degree given drug exec, governor's daughter, 38

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When West Virginia University's faculty and 28,000 students return to the Morgantown campus tomorrow, they will be swept up in a growing controversy over the school's decision to award an M.B.A. degree to the 38-year-old daughter of Gov. Joe Manchin nearly a decade after she left the school.

   
WVU e-mails in the MBA controversy

The following e-mails were obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act.

Roy Nutter to Jake Stump
At 11:14 a.m. on Dec. 27, faculty leader Roy Nutter responds to a Charleston newspaper 's request for comment on how West Virginia University decided to retroactively award an MBA degree to Heather Bresch, daughter of Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin and chief operating officer of Mylan Inc.

Gerald Lang to Virginia Kleist
Nine minutes later, Provost Gerald Lang forwards a copy of Mr. Nutter's comments to the paper to Virginia Kleist, a faculty senate leader who subsequently recommended that Mr. Nutter investigate the decision.

Gerald Lang to Roy Nutter
One minute after e-mailing Ms. Kleist, Mr. Lang sends an e-mail back to Mr. Nutter, whom he eventually named as an investigator. There is no message to Mr. Nutter on the e-mail, just a copy of Mr. Nutter's comments to the newspaper.

Mike Garrison to Bill Case, Gerald Lang, Craig Walker
Two hours later, University President Mike Garrison sends a copy of Mr. Nutter's comments to his chief of staff, the provost and his communications aide.

   

Among the issues open for discussion is how critically a three-member investigative panel appointed by Provost Gerald Lang Jan. 2 will examine whether Mr. Lang, the school's chief academic officer, and other university officials did anything wrong in awarding the degree to Heather Bresch, the Democratic governor's daughter and the chief operating officer of drug-maker Mylan Inc.

Two of Mr. Lang's appointees have drawn criticism: Roy Nutter, former faculty senate chair; and Bruce Flack, vice chancellor of the state Higher Education Policy Commission, a body controlled by Mr. Manchin.

Days before he was appointed, Mr. Nutter gave his views on the matter to a Charleston newspaper.

"If indeed there was a degree awarded when the person completed only half the courses, I am indeed livid and heads should roll. I seriously doubt however that this occurred as it has been reported," Mr. Nutter told the Daily Mail on Dec. 27.

A day later, University President Mike Garrison, a longtime friend and former business associate of Ms. Bresch, told a television interviewer that Mr. Flack would be a good choice to investigate the matter. Mr. Lang says he gave Mr. Flack the job without any input from Mr. Garrison.

WVU's faculty senate, which opposed Mr. Garrison's selection as president last year with what one faculty member described as uncharacteristic vigor, will hear about the investigation from Mr. Lang when it meets tomorrow.

Most faculty members interviewed by the Post-Gazette believe that the three-member panel -- the third investigator is foreign languages professor Michael Lastinger, a member of WVU's board of governors -- will do the right thing. They are particularly confident in Mr. Nutter and Mr. Lastinger.

"I have all the faith in the world in those two gentlemen," said Dennis Ruscello from the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology. "Roy is a person who really doesn't have any qualms about speaking his piece."

Some faculty members and independent experts say the circumstances of how WVU awarded the degree should be investigated by outsiders because of the political and business connections involved. Ms. Bresch's boss, Mylan Chairman Milan Puskar, is WVU's largest benefactor.

It is those pressures that make faculty members who are most critical of how the panel was selected and of Mr. Garrison's leadership reluctant to be quoted on the matter. "This is exactly the kind of thing people were concerned about last year when Garrison was a political hire," said one faculty senate member who asked to remain anonymous.

He and other critics are skeptical of Mr. Nutter for blaming faulty record-keeping as the reason the degree was awarded nine years after Ms. Bresch left the university and they are dumbfounded that more faculty aren't objecting that Mr. Lang appointed the panel members who will determine whether he did anything wrong.

"This is just beyond the pale of what is supposed to happen in academia,'' said one former faculty senate member, who asked not to be identified.

On Friday, Mr. Garrison said he supported Mr. Lang's investigation and was pleased that investigators can call in people from outside institutions and accrediting agencies. "The only currency a university has is the value of its degree,'' Mr. Garrison said in his statement. "This issue is not just a student issue. It is a University issue."

The panel will investigate how the university decided to award a master's degree in business administration to Ms. Bresch even though the university's official records initially showed she had only completed 26 hours of the 48-credit-hour program.

The panel was appointed after a Dec. 21 Post-Gazette story raised questions about the process used to grant the degree to Ms. Bresch. She insists she earned it in December 1998, but declined to release a copy of her transcript as it was before the school revised it.

The university initially told the Post-Gazette in October that Ms. Bresch did not earn the degree. When Ms. Bresch disputed that statement, it said the degree was earned but not recorded because Ms. Bresch failed to pay a $50 graduation fee. WVU later blamed a failure to transfer records for nearly half her course work from the business school to the Office of Admissions and Records, the university's official record keeper.

Last week, Mr. Lang said business school records had been lost and he did not know what records, if any, business school Dean R. Stephen Sears used to determine that Ms. Bresch earned the degree.

E-mails written by WVU officials obtained by the Post-Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act do not reflect the basis for the revisions in the university's official records, but they do reflect that the revisions were made by the business school rather than the admissions and records office, something independent education experts say is not standard practice.

"Neither [chief of staff] Craig Walker or the president's office was involved in revising or suggesting the revision of the transcript," Mr. Sears said in a statement issued by the university Friday.

Mr. Lang also said he was not involved in the transcript changes.

Post-Gazette research found that WVU added six classes, including grades, to Ms. Bresch's records and changed two classes that had been marked "incomplete" to show letter grades. The revisions accounted for 22 of the 48 credits the degree program required. The newspaper determined that the changes were made without evidence that Ms. Bresch registered or paid for the classes, and without consulting at least five of the six professors who taught the classes that were added to her record.

"I feel very comfortable [the panel] will do a very thorough job and if there is an issue they will uncover it," said Richard Turton, who represents the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources in the faculty senate.

Mr. Turton was not aware of Mr. Nutter's comments to the Charleston paper, but said: "I consider him to be somebody above reproach."

E-mails obtained by the Post-Gazette indicate Mr. Lang knew of Mr. Nutter's opinion on the matter within 10 minutes of the longtime faculty member's sending his comments to the Charleston paper. Mr. Lang immediately forwarded Mr. Nutter's comments in an e-mail to Virginia Kleist, a faculty senate leader who subsequently recommended that Mr. Lang appoint Mr. Nutter to the panel.

Keith Garbutt, who represents the College of Arts and Sciences in the senate, expressed an opinion held by many faculty members who commented on the issue.

"It's very important that we don't prejudge it," he said.

The faculty senate is the logical group to press for a thorough investigation of a matter that could affect the university's reputation, said Jonathan Knight from the American Association of University Professors. "They could make it very uncomfortable for the administration if they looked into this matter," said Mr. Knight, whose organization represents about 45,000 college faculty members.

One faculty senate member, who asked not to be identified, wonders how vocal the senate will be. He said the traditionally moribund body was energized by last year's controversy over the appointment of Mr. Garrison. Many claimed Mr. Garrison, a lawyer and chief of staff to former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, lacked the academic credentials for the post and got the job because of his political connections.

The faculty senate had overwhelmingly backed Kansas State University Provost Duane Nellis, WVU's former arts and sciences dean, for the job. After losing that fight, pushing the administration hard over how Ms. Bresch got her degree will be all the more difficult, the faculty senate member said.

"The difference between this situation and the Garrison candidacy is that Garrison's in office now. Everybody's looking over their shoulder."


Len Boselovic can be reached at lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941. Patricia Sabatini can be reached a psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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