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Ohio Valley University won’t offer spring classes amid financial struggles

The Stotts Administration Center at Ohio Valley University is shown Wednesday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

VIENNA — A fellow student passed freshman Libby Judge on the quiet campus of Ohio Valley University on Wednesday and asked if she was doing all right.

“As OK as we can be at the moment,” the freshman from Proctorville, Ohio, said with a smile.

Judge is trying to remain positive after learning she wouldn’t be able to return to the school for the spring semester.

In a press release sent out Wednesday by OVU President Michael Ross, the school announced it will not be offering classes in the spring of 2022.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission received a letter Tuesday in which Ross wrote that the school’s Board of Trustees made the decision to close when it met this week.

A person walks along a sidewalk at Ohio Valley University on Wednesday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“We find ourselves in an extremely difficult financial situation and know that we have work to do to complete the current semester,” Ross wrote.

A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday before the commission with a resolution on the agenda urging revocation of OVU’s authorization to confer degrees. Despite the school’s announcement, a HEPC official said the hearing will go forward Friday, including the matters dealing with OVU.

Documents posted on the HEPC website with Friday’s meeting agenda detail complaints from OVU students, parents and employees recently regarding an inability of the school to provide academic transcripts due to a computer server problem and the institution’s failure to compensate employees for work performed for months.

School officials told the commission they are working on a way to access the transcript data.

Wes Crum, vice president for academic affairs at OVU, referred all questions to Ross.

A water tower bearing the name of Ohio Valley University stands next to dormitories Wednesday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office is aware of the situation, with a spokesman saying people can file a consumer complaint with their office or a complaint with the Higher Learning Commission.

OVU has not yet provided a timeframe by which it will be able to provide students with their transcripts nor when the payroll issues will be resolved, the HEPC reported.

The Higher Learning Commission, an independent accreditor of higher learning institutions in 19 states, placed OVU on probation in July 2020 due to financial struggles

In the press release, Ross said the school will be working on its next steps with sister schools, local private and public institutions, HEPC and the Higher Learning Commission.

“It’s been a lot of guessing and rearranging,” said Judge. “I have no idea (what’s next). I’m trying to find somewhere I can play softball and continue my degree.”

She said she’s grateful for school officials who are working to find matching scholarships so athletes can continue their education and athletic careers without paying more than they already were.

Jonathan Torres, an OVU freshman from Puerto Rico, said the last few days have been tough.

“Everyone had a different version of what was going on, until yesterday, there was a big meeting,” said Torres, who is now looking at options for both his education and collegiate baseball career.

Ross said the school will be holding a college fair from 1-4 p.m. Friday in Roberts Chapel to assist students with their next steps.

“OVU strives to be an institution that conducts business with integrity while being good stewards of our resources,” he said in the release. “Our current situation precludes us from fulfilling those intentions in a satisfactory way.

“Although much progress was made, it has not been enough for us to continue to operate with integrity.”

In his letter to the HEPC, Ross said the university did not make its decision lightly and realizes the work ahead to meet the needs of students takes priority.

In an email from Ross to the “OVU Family,” provided by an OVU student, the president acknowledged “this is an extremely difficult time filled with uncertainty and anxiety.”

“This semester has been such a roller coaster of events, activities and emotions,” he wrote in the email. “The ongoing server issues have complicated transcripts, grades, and registration.

“This coupled with the electrical outage that affected the sprinkler system and the alarm in the women’s dorm has been so difficult. We also had our comprehensive review from the Higher Learning Commission and know that there are deficiencies to address. These issues create a negative aura that is hard to overcome.”

Ross also talked about the positives the university experienced recently, regarding student life and activities on campus to bring the OVU community together. He mentioned “games on the front lawn, tailgates, the OVU royal court and devotionals,” as well as a remarkable season by the women’s soccer team.

“Chapel has been a positive experience as we have been striving to continually introduce Jesus and the importance of Him in our lives,” Ross wrote. “Some of the highlights include services that are completely led by our students and welcoming alumni back to speak.”

He went on to say the university is working diligently on plans to address several scenarios that may affect what the future looks like for the school.

“There is nothing definitive at this point, but I want you to know that our students are our top priority,” he wrote. “I want to assure you that your credits and degrees are not in danger. If you complete a class or a degree program, you will receive full the benefits of your accomplishments.”

As the university continues to evaluate and process, he said he will keep students informed of their progress and their plans.

Although not mentioned in the HEPC documents, OVU also faces an outstanding lawsuit filed by two female students who allege the school took no action after they reported being sexually assaulted by other students at an off-campus party. They said they were subjected to threats and intimidation after reporting the incident and that school officials discouraged them from pursuing it and revoked their athletic scholarships without notice.

In an answer to the complaint, OVU acknowledged the students had reported the alleged assault and threats, but denied the other allegations.

The suit was filed in September 2020 in Wood County Circuit Court. Court documents show the parties are to conduct mediation by March 31, 2022, with a potential trial slated for June.

Ohio Valley University is a private institution, affiliated with Churches of Christ, that was founded in 1958. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of 253 in the fall of 2020, according to US News and World Report.

Staff reporter Candice Black contributed to this story.

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com and Evan Bevins at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com

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