Transparency: Backroom tactics hinder commission’s work

West Virginia’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education met again this week. So far, the group has, as commission member Eric Lewis of Shepherd University put it, “wasted 30 days.

“We haven’t done anything in 30 days except schedule when the next meetings are,” he said.

Among the reasons for such bureaucratic crawl may be the lack of transparency, communication, and an understanding of a shared objective — demonstrated best, perhaps, by the behavior of the commission’s lead co-chairman E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University.

According to multiple reports, including an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Gee has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes — behind the backs of his fellow commission members –with objectives that may include eliminating the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission and the performance-based funding formula it had been developing.

Gee’s own comments indicated he was not thrilled his activities had been reported. Certainly his colleague Ellen Cappellanti, an attorney and former member and chair of the WVU board of governors, understood the impact of bringing such country club conversations to light. She appears to have preferred such information remain private.

“Whoever is throwing grenades and throwing absolute garbage out — like that article — to try to get us upset or inflamed, whoever they are shame on them,” she said. Cappellanti may also have been referring to the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s work in filing an open records request that yielded emails between two high-ranking WVU officials expressing approval of a news item that focused on talk of closing or consolidating some of the state’s public colleges.

Other members of the commission — those representing institutions such as Marshall University, Concord University, Shepherd or the HEPC — took issue not with the work of news organizations, but with the backroom tactics that may be undermining their mission.

“As far as I’m concerned, we haven’t taken the first substantive step to address the mandate of the governor,” said HEPC Chairman Mike Farrell.

Should anyone feel ashamed, it is for that, and what seems to be an effort to do business away from the prying eyes of the public — and the rest of the commission.