Two West Virginia University professors suspect retaliation for remarks
Chad S. Wilcox, center, with "Garrison Must Resign" taped to his mortarboard, walks past West Virginia University President Michael Garrison, right, without shaking his hand and greets honorary degree recipient Addison M. Fischer last night in Morgantown. Mr. Wilcox, a biology and history major, was one of two honors students who protested against Mr. Garrison at their graduation ceremony at the WVU Coliseum last night. Mr. Garrison, subject of no-confidence votes by the faculty over a degree scandal involving the daughter of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, attended the ceremony but did not speak. Many of the 130 honors graduates shook the president's hand as they crossed the stage to get their diplomas.
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Two West Virginia University professors have filed a grievance after being told their offices are being relocated, a decision they were informed of the day after one of them called for President Mike Garrison's resignation.
Judy Sedgeman and Dr. William Pettit of WVU's Health Sciences Center believe the decision by interim medical school dean Dr. James Brick may be retaliation for comments Ms. Sedgeman made at Wednesday's rare facultywide meeting, which delivered a 565-39 vote of no confidence in the embattled president.
The faculty also approved a measure to establish an outside panel that would review reports of intimidation against those who speak out against the administration. The measure was sparked by reports that students and faculty who oppose Mr. Garrison are being intimidated, a fear that is particularly strong at the university's Health Sciences Center, where the medical school dean resigned suddenly April 8 and consultants have been brought in to restructure operations.
At Wednesday's meeting, community medicine professor Mary Carter told faculty about a "culture of fear" at the center while biochemistry professor Michael Miller said students who criticized Mr. Garrison were being intimidated.
Health Sciences spokeswoman Amy Johns said medical school administrators made the decision to move Ms. Sedgeman's and Dr. Pettit's offices Feb. 14, and that a letter informing them was drafted April 29 and signed by Dr. Brick May 6.
That was a day after the faculty senate delivered a 77-19 vote of no confidence in Mr. Garrison over WVU's decision to grant a master of business administration degree to Mylan Inc. executive Heather Bresch that she did not earn. Ms. Bresch is the daughter of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and a longtime friend and former business associate of Mr. Garrison.
Ms. Sedgeman is a member of the senate and spoke in favor of Mr. Garrison's resignation.
Dr. Brick's letter did not reach Dr. Pettit until Thursday, the day after the faculty's second no-confidence vote. Ms. Sedgeman also spoke in favor of the second vote, decrying the politicization of the university.
"We are known as the ultimate party school -- the school that is in the pocket of the ruling party of West Virginia," she said.
Dr. Brick's letter stated their offices were needed to accommodate medical school expansion and that they must vacate them by Aug. 1. They were told they will be assigned other space on campus or can use donor money earmarked for their West Virginia Initiative for Innate Health to move off campus.
"We interpreted it as potential retribution," Ms. Sedgeman said.
Dr. Brick's boss said it wasn't.
"We are a university that expects free and open discussion of all issues. There has not been, nor will there ever be, retribution or retaliation by this administration towards anyone," said interim Health Sciences vice president Dr. Fred Butcher.
Dr. Brick was named interim dean following the resignation of Dr. John Prescott, whose abrupt departure unsettled some Health Sciences Center faculty. Their anxiety was heightened by a letter supporting Mr. Garrison that was circulated May 1 by Dr. Julian Bailes, head of the neurosurgery department. Several faculty members who asked not to be identified said they felt pressured to sign the letter but resisted.
Dr. Bailes and Dr. Brick were members of the search committee that led to Mr. Garrison's appointment as president last year. Dr. Bailes' letter was signed by 23 of the medical school's more than 600 faculty members, including seven of 21 department heads.
An e-mail inadvertently sent this week by Capt. Bob Cheslock, assistant director of campus police, also unnerved some faculty members.
Mr. Cheslock apparently wanted to forward English professor Charles Baldwin's e-mail urging faculty to attend Wednesday's meeting to his superior, associate director of public safety Robin Levelle, along with the comment that "apparently this guy [Mr. Baldwin] is stirring the pot." But instead of hitting the "forward" key, he hit "reply" and the policeman's "stirring the pot" message went back to Mr. Baldwin.
Mr. Baldwin said yesterday the police captain's comment was "disturbing," but not as intimidating as it could have been had he believed the "stirring the pot" comment was meant for him to see.
Mr. Baldwin's e-mail did not urge faculty to vote one way or the other. "I think it is unreasonable to characterize my e-mail as 'stirring the pot,' " Mr. Baldwin said. "All my e-mail said is I encourage you to attend."
Wednesday's vote calling for Mr. Garrison's ouster was rebuffed by the president, who issued a statement saying he was "dismayed" by the M.B.A. scandal and "committed to making sure nothing of this sort happens here again."
Mr. Garrison has denied having a direct hand in granting the fraudulent degree. Last month, an investigative panel determined the university had no basis for awarding the degree and put the president's top aides, including chief of staff Craig Walker, at the center of the decision. The panel found that top 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.
The scandal has prompted a Charleston law firm to run ads aimed at WVU students graduating this weekend for a potential class-action lawsuit against the university for devaluing their degrees.
Greg Chiartas, a partner with Freeman and Chiartas, said he wanted to gauge interest in legal action after being contacted by a student and parents of two other students who felt their degrees had been tarnished. Mr. Chiartas said one student is applying for graduate school and said he was asked whether he had picked up his undergraduate degree "at the West Virginia drive-thru window."
"There is a cloud hanging over these kids' heads. Parents are upset. They said they feel like everyone is looking like there is an asterisk next to their degree," Mr. Chiartas said.
"If you have someone from Pitt and WVU applying for the same position, will the person from Pitt get the nod?" because of the damage to WVU's reputation, asked Mr. Chiartas, who holds degrees from both universities.
If his firm files a lawsuit, it will donate any fees it receives to the WVU Foundation, he said, provided the WVU Board of Governors "steps up to the plate and forces Garrison's resignation."
The firm's ads started running Thursday night and will continue through the weekend. As of early yesterday afternoon, 15 calls had been logged, Mr. Chiartas said.
First Published May 17, 2008 12:00 am