HEPC postpones vote on Wheeling University after learning top administrators placed on leave

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has decided to postpone the vote for reauthorization of Wheeling University, yet again, as the institution’s future remains in limbo.

The commission held a scheduled special meeting on Friday morning, which included the reauthorization on the agenda, that occurred minutes after it was announced by Wheeling University (WU) that President Michael Mihalyo and Senior Vice President Joseph Petrella were put on administrative leave effective immediately.

“This morning (Friday) at approximately 9:50 a.m., about ten minutes before this meeting we learned that the President and Senior Vice President have been placed on administrative leave,” Corley Dennison, Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs of HEPC told MetroNews.

Corley Dennison

“Nothing was discussed about that with the new board chair. Clearly, we need to review all of this information and the commissioners have voted to postpone reauthorization.”

Dennison said the HEPC met with new WU Board Chair Ginny Favede on Thursday morning to discuss the progress of the institution formerly known as Wheeling Jesuit University.

He said a lot of information came to the board too late for full review prior to the Friday morning meeting. In addition, HEPC learned of a complaint filed by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), WU’s regional accrediting body, regarding the governance of the institution.

VIEW: HEPC special meeting agenda including WU reauthorization info

The vote for reauthorization of the institution has now been scheduled for August 16. Friday’s meeting was a continuation of a postponed voted on June 14.

Dennison said the HEPC is going to have an on-campus visit to WU the week of the vote. He said they will talk to the students, faculty, and staff before coming back and making a recommendation to the commissioners.

“We need to go up and gather information,” Dennison said. “We need to be assured that the interest of the students is being protected. We need to be sure that those students are going to be receiving a quality education that is going to get what they paid for in their tuition.”

For reauthorization, the HEPC wants to see a teach-out plan for current students in programs that were eliminated, a formal plan that demonstrates the current financial stability and future viability of WU, the results of a financial audit on expenditures related to scholarships and endowments, and frequent status updates and shared communications with the HLC.

WU is a private institution but around $500,000 in scholarship aid is given annually to the school, according to numbers discussed at the meeting.

Every institution that confers a degree above the master’s degree has to be authorized to confer that degree in West Virginia. That vote for four-year institutions is the commission and for two-year institutions is the council.

“If the commissioners would decide not to authorize the institution they could not confer degrees in West Virginia,” Dennison said.

VIEW: HEPC consumer information on annual reauthorization process

According to Dennison, the last institution to have authorization pulled by the council was West Virginia Business College in June 2017.

In March of this year, WU declared financial exigency.

At the end of last academic school year, MetroNews reported WU was cutting numerous undergraduate programs and dozens of faculty and staff. On July 18, the school announced its name change to reflect the termination of its affiliation with the Jesuits.

Wheeling University has given no comment as to what went behind the decision to place Mihalyo and Petrella on paid administrative leave.

At the meeting, Confirmation of Interim President at Glenville State College passed as well as Reauthorization for Ohio Valley University.

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