The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission paid former chancellor Paul Hill about $170,000 over roughly six months for a “sabbatical” after the HEPC board replaced him with an interim chancellor.
In July 2018, the HEPC board hired Carolyn Long, at Hill’s salary, as the top administrative leader of the agency, which oversees four-year colleges. Regardless, the board also kept Hill on for a sabbatical period through January.
Other than two travel reimbursement sheets for trips to Washington, D.C., regarding a research program Hill was involved with, the HEPC said in response to a Gazette-Mail open-records request that it doesn’t have any correspondence from Hill or any other documents showing any HEPC-related work he performed after that sabbatical began.
Board Chairman Michael Farrell said Hill’s verbal advice was incorporated into a report by a subcommittee Farrell led. Discounting appendix material submitted by colleges, the Collaboration Subcommittee report is 19 pages long.
That subcommittee was part of Gov. Jim Justice’s blue-ribbon panel on four-year higher education last year.
Farrell also said he used Hill’s advice in letters opposing proposals by a different subcommittee of that blue-ribbon panel. That was the Governance Subcommittee, which was led by HEPC board Vice Chairman Drew Payne and was proposing removing power from the HEPC and replacing it with something else.
Back in July 2018, Farrell said Hill would be paid to take a sabbatical to “perform services for the [HEPC] as requested, with him reporting to me,” and also to support the blue-ribbon panel work.
“I wanted to do the best I could to build in some more transition time as we bring an interim chancellor in,” Farrell said back then.
The Gazette-Mail was unable to interview Hill. A man picked up a call to one of his phone numbers, but the call abruptly ended and a voicemail left there was not returned.
The July 2018 sabbatical agreement that Farrell and Hill signed says, “all current benefits ... from your current position will carry forward.”
Among those benefits: a $3,000 monthly housing allowance and a $1,100 monthly vehicle allowance.
That and other benefits, such as the state continuing to fund his health insurance coverage, brought his compensation to about $170,000 for the sabbatical period.
That figure doesn’t include payments like the extra $30,000 he received in July 2018.
Matt Turner, executive vice chancellor for administration for the HEPC, said that was owed per his previous contracts as chancellor. That’s money the HEPC board had pledged to pay him even if it hadn’t approved the sabbatical.
After Long said in March that she was leaving the HEPC, the HEPC board decided to hire Community and Technical College System Chancellor Sarah Tucker to also lead the HEPC as its interim chancellor.
This is saving the two higher education oversight agencies, which already share most staff members, such as Turner, the expense of paying for two top administrators.
Worries over changeMost four-year college presidents had opposed replacing Hill with Long, who was at the time, and has now returned to being, president of the West Virginia University Institute of Technology. WVU President E. Gordon Gee was dismissive of the need for the HEPC as currently constituted and opposed its staff’s proposed college funding formula.
Long’s only higher education work experience, before becoming the HEPC chancellor, was leading WVU Tech since 2012. She became a WVU Board of Governors member in 2007, chairwoman of that board in 2008 and served there until becoming WVU Tech’s president.
She previously was superintendent of Braxton County’s public school system.
Hill was the HEPC’s vice chancellor for science and research before becoming chancellor in 2012.
Before his HEPC jobs, he was president of the National Institute for Chemical Studies that used to be at the University of Charleston, then was board chairman and the chief executive officer of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board during Bill Clinton’s presidency, then returned to the state to direct the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research program at WVU.
The two Washington, D.C., meetings he attended after leaving the chancellor position were EPSCoR meetings.
“Paul was always heavily involved in EPSCoR; he was the one responsible for bringing it back to West Virginia,” Turner, the executive vice chancellor for administration, said. “That was critical to the commission and the state that we maintain that in this transition.”
Turner said HEPC staff members spoke to Hill multiple times during the sabbatical.
Farrell, the HEPC board chairman, wrote in an email that Hill “agreed to be a consultant on issues that were deemed to be relevant to the ongoing administration of the HEPC. As it turned out, Carolyn Long served well and honorably as the Interim Chancellor. Because of her performance, there were no transition issues that required me or her to have consultations with Dr. Hill.”
Also, Farrell wrote that:
“Dr. Hill’s expertise regarding the development of HEPC policies for consideration by the executive and legislative branches was invaluable to my service as a Member and Subcommittee Chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission. Our invaluable consultations occurred when he and I spoke on multiple occasions about Blue Ribbon Commission issues during the duration of its existence. He verbally responded to numerous requests from me during the Blue Ribbon Commission process by providing experiential insights and forecasts as to the viability of different strategies relating to the Collaboration Subcommittee that I chaired and the opposition arguments that I propounded in response to the various strategies arising from by [sic] the Governance Subcommittee.”
The blue-ribbon panel, which hasn’t met since January, never developed a long-term funding formula for the four-year colleges. State lawmakers had requested the HEPC propose such a formula, but the HEPC did not propose a single version and the separate blue-ribbon panel never coalesced behind any HEPC proposal.
“I expected that the nuances of the Funding Formula would require a significant number of consultations with Dr. Hill before it would be presented to the 2019 Legislature,” Farrell wrote. “As it turned out, the anticipated debate in the Legislature about the funding formula did not materialize because of change of direction by the Legislature in defining its educational priorities.”