MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Don’t rush out a flawed document that doesn’t meet the Governor’s objective.
That’s the message from Michael Farrell, a commissioner with the Higher Education Policy Commission and a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education.
“To cut and paste, find and replace a job that was done on the statutes really was incomplete,” Farrell said on MetroNews “Talkline” Friday. “We ought not to embarass ourselves as a commission by sending the Governor something that has so many flaws.”
Farrell said the 300-page document submitted by the commission’s Governance subcommittee is essentially a cut-and-paste job — removing all references to the HEPC and replacing it with OPE — or the proposed Office on Postsecondary Education.
“Chairman (and WVU President) Gee has made it very clear that he believes the HEPC is a super-governing board, and that he has advocated for its elimination,” Farrell said.
The former interim Marshall president has taken a hard-line stance against that — saying that the HEPC’s job isn’t to govern. Rather, it enforces statutes already existing in state code. For example, West Virginia University, Marshall, and the Osteopathic School of Medicine are exempted from state code regarding the regulation and creation of academic programs at four-year institutions.
“The legislature had in place before and since a law that says that nobody else could just uniliterally create programs,” Farrell said. “We weren’t governing. We were applying the law as the state legislature mandated that we do.”
Under the new draft legislation from the BRC, Shepherd would also be granted an exemption — something that drew the ire of Fairmont State President Dr. Mirta Martin.
Under the proposed OPE, schools could in theory apply to that office for exemptions. But Farrell said that violates the spirit of actual governance.
“I think that’s what they are envisioning,” he said. “The reality is it really is a legislative decision.”
He said these decisions go back to laws written in the early 2000’s that also established Boards of Governors for each institution.
“I don’t think the OPE, as envisioned, ought to have that authority,” Farrell added.
Farrell also drove home in two letters written to his fellow BRC members that each school’s Board of Governors are the governing entity.
“Those boards govern each institution,” he said. “The HEPC does not govern.”
While it will take an all-day proposed work session to try and iron out, line-by-line, the differences on the commission, the group did agree on the need for a $10 million appropriation to solve historic inequity among the colleges and also address budget cuts from past years at the state level.
Of course, Farrell said it becomes a little more complicated when you factor in the HEPC’s funding formula, which brings this all home to Farrell’s bottom line — financial accountability.
“What started all of this was the funding formula that the legislature demanded,” he said, “created a statute that said HEPC: ‘publish a funding formula so that we can allocate moneys going forward.”
In the first draft of that, WVU would lose $9 million in the first year of the new formula.
“WVU objected to that,” Farrell said. “This entire process has obfuscated what the legislature asked, and that was objective metric, data-driven criteria determining how much money each institution gets.”
Farrell pleaded Thursday for patience — not to feel obligated to submit a piece of legislation in-time for the 2019 regular session. He said offering up a token piece of legislation wouldn’t help.
“Just change the title (from HEPC to OPE), with the elimination of the position of chancellor,” Farell said. “Beyond that, there’s really no substantive changes.”
The work session has not yet been scheduled, according to the BRC website.