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West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chair Fires Back at WVU President E. Gordon Gee

Efforts by E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University, to shut down the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission are not sitting well with HEPC Chairman Michael Farrell.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education is slated to meet Friday at Tamarack in Beckley to discuss “an exchange of ideas about the future of West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission,” according to the agenda posted on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

The commission met for 10 minutes Wednesday through a conference call to discuss the agenda for Friday’s meeting, which will also include reports from the commission’s three subcommittees and a presentation from Hunter Barclay, Marshall University’s student boy president, on how college students can help advocate for increased state funding for higher education.

In preparation for Friday’s meeting, Farrell sent all Blue Ribbon Commission members a letter dated Monday aimed squarely at Gee and attempts by the commission’s Structure and Organizational Subcommittee to dismantle the HEPC in favor of creating a new agency focused on support services for the state’s college and universities.

“I acknowledge that Co-Chair Gee is not a fan of the HEPC. The inquiry does not end with his opposition,” Farrell said. “HEPC is classified as a state-level coordinating agency, providing coordinating and policy research and recommendation functions, as well as shared services and administration. The clamor that it oppressively governs WVU is wrong and not factually supportable. The WVU Board of Governors governs WVU.”

The Structure and Organizational Subcommittee met Sept. 24 to consider a proposal that would shut down the HEPC replace it with a service agency for higher education and allow the governing boards at the smaller colleges and universities more autonomy. Gee, an outspoken critic of the HEPC, said at that meeting that the agency had overstepped its bounds.

“We need to get back into the business of not having redundancy and oversight from a centralized body, particularly one we cannot afford,” Gee said. “The Higher Education Policy Commission was created as a policy commission. It is now a regulatory agency way beyond the boundaries of what is good for higher education.”

While WVU — along with Marshall University — has full academic control of its school, it’s the performance-based funding model that the HEPC is developing that Gee has mostly decried. The HEPC, at the behest of the West Virginia Legislature, was asked to develop a new funding model to better distribute state dollars between the higher education institutions. One HEPC funding model, if approved by the Legislature, would cut WVU’s state funding by 8.9 percent.

Farrell said eliminating the HEPC or taking away part of its state funding could affect how the state draws down federal grant monies and compile data for the legislature.

During Wednesday’s conference call, no mention was made of Farrell’s letter.

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