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West Liberty University President W. Franklin Evans Narrowly Avoids Firing, Will Face Discipline

W. Franklin Evans

WEST LIBERTY — A two-vote margin Wednesday among the 12 representatives on West Liberty University’s Board of Governors will keep President W. Franklin Evans at the university’s helm.

The board then voted unanimously to subject Evans to disciplinary action for plagiarism in multiple speeches he has made as the university’s president, though the specific actions were not disclosed.

When the motion to terminate Evans was brought to a vote, only five board members voted to fire the president, with seven voting to keep him.

Board members Jamie Evick, Arlene Brantley, Mackenzi Jones, Rich Lucas, Michael Baker, David McKinley and Stephanie Shaw voted against the motion to terminate Evans. Thomas Cervone, Jason Metz, Jack Adams, Richard Carter and Ryan Glanville voted in favor of termination. Termination would have required a majority.

The vote to keep Evans came after nearly two hours in a closed-door session to determine the fate of the president, who apologized for several occasions of plagiarism in giving speeches. Evans was not present at the closed-door session, but briefly appeared at the beginning of the meeting to greet the convening board.

Among the faculty and student representatives on council, the vote was split. Jones, the student representative, voted against firing Evans, while Metz, representing the faculty, voted to terminate. Metz declined further comment following the vote.

Emails requesting comment were sent to WLU faculty senate chair Sean Ryan, policies committee chair Diana Barber, finance committee chair Eveldora Wheeler and senate secretary Kimberly Underwood.

Ryan said that the faculty senate will next meet Tuesday. Barber and Wheeler could not be reached for comment, while Underwood declined comment.

With the disciplinary action against Evans, he will answer directly to the board, excluding the human resources department from this action.

“Detailed items will be developed with the assistance of the Higher Ed Policy Commission, (their) human resources department, and the board of governors will meet all disciplinary actions,” said Lucas, who serves as the chair of the board. “… The HEPC, I will ask their assistance in getting disciplinary action together. … The details are not available.”

Lucas said he wants the votes against Evans to serve as an endpoint for the tumultuous last few weeks.

“We want to put an end to the event, but the appropriate end, and make sure everyone understands — from the board of governors to the incoming freshman class — how serious we took these allegations and how much exhaustive research was done,” he said.

“I want all good things for West Liberty University. I hope the Faculty Senate do what they feel is appropriate. … We’re going to move forward. We’re going to gather, we’ll do the right things, and West Liberty University will move forward.”

Last week, the Board of Governors had referred the matter to the university’s Human Resources department, tasking them with providing requested information to the board for review, at which time a decision on Evans’ future would be rendered.

That move came after meeting for more than 90 minutes behind closed doors, a meeting in which Evans was not involved.

Allegations against Evans had been levied by students and faculty earlier this month, when it came to light that he had lifted quotes, without attribution, from a variety of sources for his fall convocation speech on Sept. 15, a speech he gave on Juneteenth, and a speech he had given on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Evans subsequently apologized in a letter to the university.

“I am the first to say for the convocation speech that I did share some information and I did not give credit,” Evans had said.

“It was an oversight and negligent and I apologize for it,” he said. “All I can say is that it was never my intent to give the impression that those were exactly my words. I neglected to identify where it came from and for that I am sorry. I will make sure it will not happen again.”

At the previous Board meeting, board member Jason Metz presented a survey taken by 66% of faculty. According to the results of the survey, 86% of faculty considered Evans’ leadership “compromised,” 73% would have given a vote of no confidence in Evans, and 60% of those who would have made the vote would also call for his resignation. Forty-five percent of respondents believed the issues could be resolved through punitive action.

The report indicated that Evans’ conduct had already begun affecting the university’s prospective attendees, and that students already enrolled saw Evans’ continued presence as a double standard.

“We feel the impacts to our campus are already being felt. We also feel that Dr. Evans’ apology was a step in the right direction, but we do have actions and impacts on our campus that are already being felt,” Metz said last week. “We have reports from those that provide tours to prospective students on campus, that their parents are questioning our academic integrity already.

“They are asking our leaders how we intend to enforce academic honesty in our students, and our leaders don’t have an answer to that, unfortunately. Some faculty have reported struggling to enforce our student code of conduct related to plagiarism, because they are citing a double standard on campus.”

Lucas said he wants to impress the weight of the accusations of plagiarism.

“I think the actions of the university, the Faculty Senate, and the Board of Governors, there cannot be an ounce of doubt as to how serious that is taken at West Liberty University,” he said. “We’ve been at this (for) a month, and I personally have learned so many things about plagiarism that I never thought, in my lifetime, I’d need to learn.

“I don’t know that anyone could look and see any level of importance that we didn’t place on all of the research, all the information, our board being willing to gather, get proper notices to the public, getting the information from students. … (It has been) exhaustive, and full intent for all efforts at solving the issue here.”

In moving forward, Lucas said Evans had spoken with the board, and Lucas feels the president is contrite and ready to move forward in his career.

“Dr. Evans spoke and he realizes the time, effort, and he’s ready,” Lucas said. “He’s a very energetic man, and … realizes that there’s work yet to be done. He’s fully committed to unifying and moving the campus forward.”

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