Dr. Mary Hendrix, Shepherd University

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The rapidly changing landscape of higher education in West Virginia has been punctuated by a tumultuous week involving the Higher Education Policy Commission.

Shepherd University President Dr. Mary Hendrix described it as a “hostile takeover.”

“I believe the process was improper, and I believe it is being viewed that way by many, many different groups,” she said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval.

A lengthy search for the replacement of outgoing Chancellor Paul Hill ended Tuesday with the appointment of interim Chancellor Carolyn Long, the President of WVU Tech. Hill was transferred into a consulting role.

As reported by MetroNews earlier this week, the vote comes just days after the announcement of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education to look at the broad picture of West Virginia’s four year colleges, many of which are laboring to maintain solvency.

“There’s a lot of trust that has been lost over the process that has occurred this last week,” Hendrix said.

WVU refuted Hendrix’s criticism. “We are disappointed and disagree with President Hendrix’s allegations and the sequence of events stated,” said University spokesperson April Kaull Stolzenbach. “Her assumptions do not have merit; and the University is not engaging in a hostile takeover of our education system.”

The HEPC is considered as a counterbalance to the significant power wielded by West Virginia University and Marshall University. The vote Tuesday was seen as a response to the Blue Ribbon Commission, with some HEPC Commissioners expressing concern over continuing a long-term search for Paul Hill’s replacement with the possibility that the state’s Higher Education landscape could further change.

“At a point in time when we don’t know what the structure is going to look like, we don’t know what the governor’s recommendation and his commission is going to be or the legislative response to it, I think it’s unfair to have the search and spend that money, only to have to do it again,” said Michael Farrell, HEPC chairman, Tuesday afternoon.

Following the vote, Commission counsel Bruce Walker announced his immediate retirement and left the room, citing a rule of professional conduct saying a lawyer can withdraw representation if their client is perpetuating a crime or fraud. The rule also says a lawyer may withdraw if the client insists upon taking action that the lawyer considers repugnant or with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement

“What I’m concerned about is anything that raises the optics of the state of West Virginia not following normal rules of engagement,” Hendrix said.

Under the previous funding model for the state’s institutions, Hendrix said smaller schools often benefitted at the expense of their larger, more financially stable counterparts.

“Shepherd would have benefitted from this new model,” she said. “Unfortunately, WVU and WVU Institute of Technology would not have. And, so, the problem is, basically, this is a redistribution model. It is causing a lot of dissension among all of us in Higher Ed.”

Hendrix said she considers WVU President Gordon Gee a friend, but said the two disagree on what Long’s appointment to interim chancellor means for higher education.

“If West Virginia were able to add more resources to the entire pot, then everyone would benefit. As Gordon Gee has said on a number of different occasions, money wouldn’t be taken away from WVU to be distributed to others. It’s as simple as that.”