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Acrimony Continues Between WVU President Gee, Blue Ribbon Commission

GEE

CHARLESTON — E. Gordon Gee, the president of West Virginia University and the co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Four-Year Higher Education, had some blunt words for committee members pushing back against an effort to scrap the Higher Education Policy Commission.

“Unfortunately, there are people who think the status quo of higher education in this state is good or good enough,” Gee said. “I propose it makes sense for those same folks to not keep an open mind about change and how we might come up with a better approach. Putting it bluntly, as I sometimes do, the status quo simply has no status.”

Gee’s remarks came Tuesday afternoon during a meeting by conference call of the Blue Ribbon Commission. The commission is tasked with finding ways to create more collaboration and efficiencies between the state’s 10 regional colleges and universities.

The commission is supposed to submit a final report Dec. 10 to Gov. Jim Justice, but committee members might ask for more time as the Structure and Organization Subcommittee continues work on a 360-page proposal. The proposal calls for the elimination of the HEPC and replacing it with an Office of Post-Secondary Education. The new office would eliminate many of the functions of the HEPC and give autonomy to boards of governors at the smaller state colleges and universities.

Several members of the commission, including HEPC chairman Michael Farrell, have criticized the move to scrap the HEPC completely. The higher education agency has several legislative mandated functions, provides data and research to educators and lawmakers and provides coordination between the schools. Farrell, in a letter to commission members dated Nov. 21, said getting rid of HEPC is a bad idea.

“HEPC is the entity that the Legislature created to gather, analyze and monitor the performance metrics of higher education and be accountable to the Legislature to confirm that each appropriation is well spent,” Farrell said. “The Blue Ribbon Commission will embarrass itself if it endorses to the Governor a proposal that fails to analyze the statutory duties assigned to the HEPC and fails to address why the legislative leadership should discard and disband the sole governmental agency that provides objective analysis and advice regarding the policies that provide the foundation for the delivery of higher education in the State of West Virginia.”

Gee, during his opening statement on the conference call Tuesday, said the commission is mandated to make sweeping changes.

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are,” Gee said. “It’s just that simple. Our governor has made it very clear he wants to maintain our regional institutions. He also made it clear that every aspect of this state and higher education needs to change.”

Gee said committee members need to acknowledge that higher education in West Virginia is broken. The article goes on to call for eliminating poor-performing schools and putting more resources into WVU.

While the Structure and Organization Subcommittee is working on the full proposal, regional schools are looking at what services HEPC provides that they want to keep or scrap. The latest proposal would also create a research and science council to provide oversight for research grants and the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston.

Officials said the proposal should be completed for review before Christmas.

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