CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The search for a new higher education chancellor is likely to end next week because of Gov. Jim Justice’s call for a broad study of West Virginia’s higher education system.

Justice was flanked at a Monday news conference by West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert and Concord University President Kendra Boggess as he kicked off his Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education. The presidents are the co-chairs of the commission.

Justice said the commission’s work, which he would like to be concluded by December, is meant to shore up West Virginia’s four-year system, particularly smaller colleges that are economic engines for their communities even as they might struggle financially.

“What we want to do is take advantage of the expertise of our larger universities and let them drive us, let them help us to find a way to preserve our smaller institutions and give them the opportunity of thriving as well,” Justice said.

The governor and the presidents were asked several times if the commission’s ultimate result might be WVU and Marshall taking responsibility for regions of the state. At one point, that possibility was described as a “WVU system” and a “Marshall system.”

“I don’t think so at all. It’s an effort to make things better,” Justice said.

Alternatively, the group was asked whether WVU or Marshall might assume more oversight of individual colleges in need of more support.

“It could very well be,” Justice said.

Gee commented on that possibility, “We have no idea.”

They were also asked if this might be the beginning of the end for the Higher Education Policy Commission, which has governed the state’s four-year institutions.

“I do not believe that we are being supplanted,” said Michael Farrell, chairman of the commission.

In most cases when asked such questions, the group said the blue ribbon commission’s work has just started and there’s no determining the outcome yet.

Justice also said he hopes not to close any of West Virginia’s small colleges.

“I am not a proponent of closing, combining,” he said. “I am a proponent of making things better.”

Gee added, “The governor has been very clear that this is not a closure commission. This is an enhancement commission.”

This all comes as Chancellor Paul Hill moves toward retiring from his current position. The position had been advertised, with an August goal of naming a replacement.

Farrell, a Huntington lawyer who heads the HEPC, said the group will get together at 9 a.m. Monday with an agenda that will likely end the hunt for a new chancellor.  “I suspect we’re going to suspend that search.”

That was in contrast to a statement by Justice, who was asked if the chancellor search would continue. “We do need a chancellor. We do need a board,” Justice had said.

Gee was asked about rumors that WVU Tech President Carolyn Long — a former chairwoman of the WVU board of governors — might fill in as chancellor.

Gee said he would be excited to see that.

“I think she would be a great choice,” Gee said, adding that he has suggested her.

Gee promised that the commission’s meetings would be open.

The Governor’s Office announced the roster of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Monday afternoon:

  • Mike Farrell, chairman of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
  • Drew Payne, secretary of the HEPC
  • Mirta Martin, president of Fairmont State University
  • Anthony Jenkins, president of West Virginia State University
  • Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association
  • Marty Becker, chairman of the Board for QBE Insurance
  • Eric Lewis, certified public accountant
  • Amelia Courts, president and chief executive officer of the West Virginia Education Alliance
  • Gary White, consultant and interim chief executive officer for the Mountain Health Network
  • Ellen Cappellanti, lawyer
  • Three members of the state Senate (two Republicans and one Democrat), as designated by the Senate President. All three designees shall serve as ex-officio, non-voting members.
  • Three members of the House of Delegates (two Republicans and one Democrat), as designated by the Speaker of the House. All three designees shall serve as ex-officio, non-voting members.

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