Support for embattled West Virginia University President Mike Garrison weakened yesterday as the chairman of the university's board of governors failed to reiterate his backing and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin freed board members to deal with the continuing crisis caused by the academic scandal involving his daughter.
Chairman Steve Goodwin, who has been one of Mr. Garrison's most vocal supporters, said the board took no action yesterday after a three-hour emergency meeting in private on a personnel matter.
Asked if the board continued to support Mr. Garrison in light of the M.B.A. degree scandal involving Mylan Inc. executive Heather Bresch, Mr. Manchin's daughter, Mr. Goodwin said members would wait for Mr. Garrison's report at the board's regular June 6 meeting on his plans for moving the university forward.
Mr. Goodwin said yesterday's emergency conference call was requested by "several" board members who wanted to talk. Sixteen of 18 members participated, he said.
He said personnel discussions were private but added that "it doesn't take too much imagination" to know the topic was Mr. Garrison.
He said the board probably would meet again next week on the same matter.
Mr. Goodwin said that to his knowledge, no board member has said that Mr. Garrison should step down.
Simultaneously, Mr. Manchin issued a statement leaving Mr. Garrison's fate in the hands of the board. Mr. Garrison's critics charge the board has been stacked with Mr. Manchin's political cronies to exert control over WVU, an allegation the governor denied.
Board members "are not under my control and remain free, as they always have been, to make their own individual and collective decisions," Mr. Manchin said in a statement released by his office.
"I was quite surprised by the tone of his [statement], which seemed to leave the door open for the board of governors to ask Garrison to resign," said WVU physics professor Boyd Edwards, head of a grass-roots campus group seeking the president's ouster.
Yesterday's developments followed two lopsided faculty votes calling for Mr. Garrison to resign and weekend commencement ceremonies in which the first-year president played an unusually low-key role.
Calls for Mr. Garrison's resignation were sparked by the April 23 report of an investigative panel that concluded that WVU administrators made a "seriously flawed" decision in awarding a master's of business administration degree retroactively to Ms. Bresch, a longtime friend, former classmate and former business associate of Mr. Garrison. Mylan Chairman Milan Puskar is WVU's biggest benefactor.
The scandal has outraged students, shocked alumni, caused donors to withhold millions in contributions and sullied the university's reputation in the higher education community. It also has energized the faculty, which has led the campaign to remove Mr. Garrison.
Mr. Garrison, 39, has denied a direct hand in granting the fraudulent degree in October, nine years after Ms. Bresch left the M.B.A. program. The investigative panel determined there was no basis for awarding it and put Mr. Garrison's top aides, including chief of staff Craig Walker, at the center of the decision.
The panel, convened after a Dec. 21 story by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette raised questions about how the university went about granting the degree, found that administrators falsified Ms. Bresch's transcript to make it appear she finished the degree despite official records showing she was 22 credits shy of the 48 credits required. They did that by giving her credits for courses she did not take or pay for and entering grades "simply pulled from thin air."
Mr. Manchin said yesterday his daughter "sincerely believed that she had her degree" and that she would have not asked WVU administrators to fabricate grades for her.
"The fabrication of grades that took place ... unfairly damages our daughter's reputation as much as it does the university," the governor's statement said.
When the panel report was released, Mr. Manchin said he hoped "WVU's leaders will correct whatever problems that led to this situation so that no other student will have to go through this kind of ordeal in the future."
Shortly after the panel's report, Provost Gerald Lang and business school dean R. Stephen Sears resigned their administrative posts. Both have said they intend to continue teaching at the university in the fall.
Just as Mr. Manchin's statement was issued, a delegation of seven current and former faculty senate members met with Mr. Garrison and asked him to step aside. Mr. Garrison listened attentively "but gave no indication that he regarded our presentation as necessarily persuasive," said music history professor Christopher Wilkinson.
Mr. Garrison also repeated his intention to remain on the job in a private meeting yesterday morning with WVU professor Michael Perone, vice chairman of Mountaineers for Integrity and Responsibility, the grass-roots group headed by Mr. Edwards.
Mr. Perone said Mr. Garrison "blames Jerry Lang and Dean Sears for the decision to award the degree."
"He doesn't understand why faculty continues to express a lack of confidence in his leadership," Mr. Perone said. "He believes the [panel's] report absolves him of any responsibility."
Mr. Perone said he told Mr. Garrison that he had "broken his trust with the faculty."
"He will not be able to restore the university's reputation for academic integrity. I urged him to resign before things got worse and worse."
"I don't think he understands the morass that he is in today," Mr. Perone added.
Mr. Garrison yesterday delivered his regular business update to faculty senate members on the executive committee but did not address the degree scandal, faculty senate chair-elect Virginia Kleist said.
After his report, the executive committee called for an electronic ballot allowing faculty to vote on the motion passed last week 565-39 at a facultywide meeting urging Mr. Garrison to step down. The vote, which is expected to be held in the next few weeks, was called to let people who could not attend last week's meeting to register their opinions. Two weeks ago, the faculty senate passed an identical no-confidence measure 77-19.