The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission’s board met briefly behind closed doors Friday before Chairman Michael Farrell announced plans to hire a new interim chancellor on April 26.
The board spent roughly 20 minutes in closed session, claiming an exemption from open meetings laws to discuss personnel issues regarding interim chancellor Carolyn Long’s anticipated resignation.
Following the closed session, the board, in a voice vote with no nays heard, accepted Long’s resignation, effective May 15.
“The service you have provided has been outstanding, we’ve been very appreciative,” Farrell said to Long.
Long said West Virginia University President Gordon Gee plans to re-appoint her as president of the WVU Institute of Technology, and she said she believes that decision doesn’t require approval from the WVU Board of Governors.
WVU Communications Senior Executive Director John Bolt said he didn’t have an answer Friday regarding whether Long would be appointed or who makes that decision.
Farrell said the HEPC is accepting, through the close of business on April 10, applications from “all interested parties” to be interim chancellor. He said he expects the salary will be about the same as Long’s: a rate that’s worth $289,000 if the person works a full year.
Shelli Dronsfield, the HEPC’s communications director, said she didn’t yet have information on how applicants can submit their applications.
Long said Monday she would stay in the interim role “if there was going to be a transition into big changes” at the HEPC, to help with that transition.
“And there’s not going to be, as far as I can see,” she said. “So, therefore, I’m following through with what I said I would do.”
The HEPC board’s July 10 vote to hire Long came shortly after Gov. Jim Justice formed his Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education, and it came despite all but one of the state’s smaller public four-year colleges opposing the hiring.
The HEPC board was searching for a permanent chancellor when the Blue Ribbon panel was formed, and then abandoned that search.
Gee recommended to several HEPC board members appointing Long to the interim role, and said he wanted her to return to Tech after that stint.
The Blue Ribbon panel missed Justice’s Dec. 10 deadline for a final report on higher education, and it hasn’t announced any meetings since one on Jan. 4.
“If future meetings are scheduled, the public will be notified,” wrote Butch Antolini, Justice’s communications director, in an email Friday. He didn’t answer whether Justice wants the Blue Ribbon panel to keep meeting.
Long said she didn’t make the decision to resign until the end of the regular session of the West Virginia Legislature earlier this month.
Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 673 this session to eliminate the statewide master plan for public higher education, and that bill awaits Justice’s signature or veto. But lawmakers didn’t use any HEPC-recommended college funding formula and didn’t approve other higher education oversight decreases that were the source of controversy in Blue Ribbon meetings.
Among those: proposals to demote the HEPC from an oversight and policy agency to one that would just provide services to colleges, and possibly change its name and board makeup.
Gee, who led the Blue Ribbon meetings, and current and former WVU Board of Governors members who also were on the panel supported demoting the HEPC. Gee said he pushed to create the Blue Ribbon panel but said that wasn’t because of any opposition to the HEPC’s then-proposed funding formula, which would have lessened WVU’s state funding.
Bolt wrote in an email Friday that, “during the recently completed legislative session, the Blue Ribbon Commission [on] Four-Year Higher Education played a key role in securing more than $10 million in additional funding for West Virginia’s public colleges and universities. More work remains to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of higher education.”
That $10 million-plus funding boost was based on an earlier, similar Blue Ribbon recommendation, which wasn’t based on any proposed long-term funding formula.
“The [Blue Ribbon] Commission looks forward to further guidance from the governor and Legislature regarding other items on the commission’s list of goals, including a long-term funding formula and structural changes in governance/coordination,” Bolt wrote.
Farrell noted that, aside from the Blue Ribbon panel, “the Legislature has established a study group to look at higher education that I expect to convene, likely during the summer months, and the opportunity for a permanent chancellorship should be one that is fairly firm.”
“I think that study group will tell us what the structure is going to be and the candidates for that permanent position will then have an opportunity to assess whether he or she wants this job,” he said.