CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Attempts to settle several hundred lawsuits filed against Mountain State University began Monday in Charleston.The cases, which deal with the university's loss of accreditation, have been assigned to the mass litigation panel.In June 2012, the Higher Learning Commission revoked the school's primary accreditation after years of failing to correct major problems in leadership, program evaluations and campuswide governance.The lawsuits allege that school officials were deceptive about the problems the school was facing.
When a university loses its primary accreditation, any subsequent degrees conferred by the university are effectively worthless.The University of Charleston took over Mountain State campuses in Beckley and Martinsburg so that students left in limbo could stay and complete degrees after MSU lost its accreditation.MSU is the first higher education institution in West Virginia history to have its schoolwide accreditation revoked, according to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.The Higher Learning Commission, a regional accrediting body for colleges and universities in several states including West Virginia, placed MSU on "show cause" status in June 2011, citing the school for its top-down leadership, lack of long-term planning, failure to collaborate with faculty, failure to give information to students, and the loss of specialized accreditation for the nursing program.The cases before the panel include those filed over the university's "loss of general accreditation, special accreditations in its nursing and nurse anesthetist programs, and any other educational programs that require independent accreditation."Former students packed an auditorium at the Civic Center on Monday, the only day plaintiffs were required to attend the three-day mediation.McDowell County Circuit Judge Booker Stephens is presiding over the mediation, which is closed to the public."The judge said all media better get out," said a man standing outside of the Civic Center on Monday. He added that the judge also directed plaintiffs not to discuss litigation.Another woman outside of the Civic Center said she wasn't being told much information and that attorneys were meeting in a separate room.Mediation will continue Tuesday and Wednesday.Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.