WVU panelists stand by report

They question president's claim M.B.A. program rife with records inconsistencies

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West Virginia University's revelation that there were problems with the records of about 10 percent of the Executive M.B.A. degrees the university has awarded in recent years is inconsistent with an investigative panel's finding that the school does not have a pervasive record-keeping problem, four members of the panel said yesterday.

The four professors, who investigated the master's degree in business administration that WVU erroneously awarded to Mylan Inc. executive Heather Bresch, yesterday confirmed the conclusions of their April 23 report. They said they did not find any case with the magnitude of discrepancies involved with the records of Ms. Bresch, the daughter of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

Their comments came a day after WVU President Mike Garrison told the university's Board of Governors that an ongoing audit of business school records cast doubt on about 70 other M.B.A. degrees awarded by the school.

Mr. Garrison also told board members on Friday that business school records showed that Ms. Bresch earned 36 of the 48 credits needed for an M.B.A., a total that is inconsistent with what the panel concluded and with official WVU records obtained by the Post-Gazette.

Faculty members seeking Mr. Garrison's resignation characterized the issues Mr. Garrison raised in his report as an attempt to save his job by exaggerating record-keeping problems the panel concluded were minimal.

The panel was appointed in January after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Ms. Bresch was awarded the degree retroactively in October even though university records showed she was 22 credits shy of completing the 48-credit-hour program when she left it in 1998.

The panel concluded those records were trustworthy.

Ms. Bresch is chief operating officer of Mylan, a Cecil generic drug maker. She is a longtime friend of Mr. Garrison who, as a one-time Mylan lobbyist, reported to her. Mylan Chairman Milan Puskar is WVU's biggest benefactor. His contributions include endowing the deanship of the business school, which administers the M.B.A. program.

No systemwide problems

Yesterday, University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, one of three non-West Virginians on the investigating panel, said he stood by the panel's report.

"We certainly did not see anything like the number that has been reported in the last couple of days," he said.

Three other panel members, WVU professors Roy Nutter and Michael Lastinger and Pace University economics professor Arthur Centonze, also said yesterday there was no system-wide record-keeping problem at WVU.

Dr. Nutter, the group's chairman, said the panel looked at about 40 problem cases, including those referred by the business school, and "did not find anything of the magnitude of the Bresch case."

None of the cases examined by the panel involved the number of credits that were awarded to Ms. Bresch for classes she did not register for, pay for, or complete, Dr. Nutter said.

The fifth panel member, University of Missouri management professor Lori Franz, could not be reached for comment.

Provost Gerald Lang, business school dean R. Stephen Sears and other administrators told panel members that other students had record-keeping problems similar to those involving Ms. Bresch. The panel concluded that statement "was not true."

"Continued repetition of this untrue allegation about [business school] records inappropriately tars the degrees of many other E-M.B.A. program graduates," the report stated.

The decision to award Ms. Bresch the degree has outraged students, shocked alumni, caused donors to withhold millions in contributions and tarnished the university's reputation in the higher education community. It also has energized the faculty, which has undertaken a campaign to remove Mr. Garrison.

Information Mr. Garrison provided to the board Friday was based on an ongoing audit of business school records ordered in October by Dr. Sears. So far, the study has found problems with about 10 percent of the 700 degrees auditors examined. Mr. Garrison told the board other students in the December 1998 class -- or cohort -- Ms. Bresch said she graduated with were as many as seven credits shy of the required 48.

"We explored extensively every case involved in Ms. Bresch's cohort and every other case referred to us and select other cases and we found no case in which students had discrepancies comparable to those we found in [the Bresch] case," Dr. Lastinger, one of the five panel members, said yesterday.

"The panel worked on this case thoroughly with every piece of evidence provided to us," he said.

Competing credit tallies

Mr. Garrison told board members that "upon further review and investigation" of business school files, "the records reflect that Ms. Bresch should have been credited with 36 hours."

WVU's Office of Records and Admissions, the university's official record keeper, reflected that she had earned 26 credit hours before leaving the program, according to documents obtained by the Post-Gazette. The newspaper also obtained documents showing Ms. Bresch's records were later modified to give her the 22 additional credits needed for the degree.

The additions included six credits for two courses previously recorded as "incompletes," eight credits for three classes in the summer of 1998 and eight credits for three courses in the fall of 1998.

"Ms. Bresch -- even by her own reported account -- had not attended or completed any courses in the summer or fall of 1998," the panel report stated. "Nor is there any record of her registration or tuition payments for the summer and fall 1998 courses."

Faculty critics unappeased

The panel concluded WVU administrators falsified Ms. Bresch's transcript by adding courses she did not take and by entering grades "simply pulled from thin air."

Mr. Garrison told board members Friday that the panel "made no finding whatsoever" that he asked anyone either to award the degree to Ms. Bresch or "to move with undue expediency on this matter."

WVU officials told the Post-Gazette Oct. 11 Ms. Bresch had not earned the M.B.A. degree. They reversed themselves four days later after Ms. Bresch called Mr. Garrison and his chief of staff, Craig Walker, and told them she earned the degree.

The panel concluded the decision was reached by relying "heavily on fragments of self-serving, hearsay conversations that they could not and did not even try to confirm or verify." The panel's report put Mr. Garrison's top aides, including Mr. Walker and General Counsel Alex Macia, at the center of the decision.

Mr. Burkoff said the panel was not asked to determine who was at fault for a decision the panel's report characterized as "an unnecessary rush to judgment" and "flawed and erroneous."

"It was our charge to just find out whether or not Heather Bresch earned a degree and what happened last fall, not necessarily to find blame," Mr. Burkoff said.

Unlike a judicial investigation, no one interviewed by the panel was under oath and the panel had no power to compel testimony or the production of documents, Mr. Burkoff said.

Board members issued a statement of support for Mr. Garrison Friday after emerging from a three-hour executive session, saying they believe "there is no evidence whatsoever that President Garrison took any action to improperly influence" the awarding of the degree.

Since the panel's report was released, Dr. Lang and Dr. Sears have resigned from their administrative posts effective June 30. Both plan to continue teaching at WVU. Mr. Garrison announced Friday that Mr. Macia will relinquish his role as general counsel but remain vice president of legal affairs. Bill Case, who as Mr. Garrison's communications officer drafted misleading explanations to the media regarding the awarding of the degree, was assigned to WVU's Health Sciences Center.

Mr. Garrison also said the matter of Ms. Bresch's falsified transcript have been referred to WVU's Office of Academic Integrity.

The actions were not enough for critics of Mr. Garrison, the object of two overwhelming votes of no-confidence by faculty members.

"He becomes a bigger liability every day," said WVU professor Michael Perone, vice chairman of a grass-roots campus group seeking Mr. Garrison's dismissal. "He's not recognized as the university's leader by the faculty."

Staff writer Cindi Lash contributed to this report. Len Boselovic can be reached at lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941. Patricia Sabatini can be reached at psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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