Blue Ribbon Commission may loosen W.Va. college oversight

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education is on the verge of proposing a new, looser governance system for West Virginia’s four-year institutions.

Gordon Gee

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee advocated the proposal as a way to give college governing boards greater sway.

“The governing boards are appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature. That’s where the accountability lies and should lie. No need to have a super governing board,” Gee said Thursday.

“We’re finally turning responsibility for governance back to the institutions.”

The proposal would do away with the current Higher Education Policy Commission.

That would be replaced by a new Office of Postsecondary Education, which would provide shared services for colleges and also coordinate academic programs.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education, established by the governor, rolled out a 3-page draft version of the recommendation during a Thursday afternoon conference call.

The possibility would still need to be made final by the full commission, recommended to the governor and, likely, acted upon by the Legislature.

Drew Payne

Drew Payne, a commission member and businessman, said the recommendations resulted from what college leaders say they want.

“They have tremendous confidence in their own governing boards, and they do not see the need for additional bureaucracy in Charleston,” Payne said.

Michael Farrell, the chairman of the Higher Education Policy Commission and a lawyer, warned that multiple aspects of state code would need to be changed.

Mike Farrell

He said the proposal should identify how the state law would be affected.

“This document as drafted is short of identifying all of the HEPC obligations,” Farrell said.

Farrell has argued against major changes to the Higher Education Policy Commission.

He has said shifting HEPC functions from a state-level, statewide entity to individual institutions could allow them to put their own advancement ahead of the needs of the state as a whole.

Farrell pushed back on Gee’s terminology.

“The HEPC has no governance functions and is not a super governing board,” he said.

Kendra Boggess

Concord University President Kendra Boggess expressed caution about financial considerations.

“What kind of fiscal analysis has been done on all this change?” she asked. “We know when we go from one when it is the board of regents to the board of governors, there’s a tremendous cost in making the change.

“I don’t know if we’ve done any analysis of what this is going to cost not just to the institutions but to the state. If not, I don’t know how any of us can agree to this.”

Steve Paine

West Virginia schools Superintendent Steve Paine drew parallels with recent moves to eliminate Regional Education Service Agencies, commonly known as RESAs, or the Office of Performance Audits.

“In terms of cost effectiveness, I would think there would be several cost efficiencies,” Paine said.

Gee described putting the finishing touches on the proposal, likely in time for a final meeting Nov. 27 in Bridgeport.

After that, he said, recommendations should be ready to convey to the governor and the Legislature.

“I’m hopeful we’re all going to be able to work on developing these proposals, and it will come to a sense of purpose and consensus,” Gee said.

SJDOCS #8231392 v1 Executive Summary Proposed Legislation to Implement (Text)

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