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HEPC interim chancellor stepping down

CHARLESTON — The Higher Education Policy Commission is holding a special meeting on Friday an anticipation of the resignation of the commission’s interim chancellor.

According to an announcement from the HEPC released Monday, the commission will meet Friday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss personnel issues regarding Carolyn Long, the interim chancellor of the HEPC.

“At this point, no, she will not be making a statement,” said Shelli Dronsfield, HEPC director of communications. “Once it is clear what direction the Commission decides to go, a statement will be made at that time.”

Long was appointed as the interim chancellor July 10, 2018, by the HEPC nearly a week after Gov. Jim Justice announced the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education, a group co-chaired by West Virginia University President Gordon Gee. The blue ribbon commission would go on to discuss the dismantling of the HEPC, even introducing legislation in February to do just that.

Previously the campus president for West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Beckley and a former member of WVU’s board of governors, Long was appointed interim chancellor to replace chancellor Paul Hill.

Drew Payne, an HEPC commissioner and former member and chairman of WVU’s board of governors, recommended Long for the position.

Months later, the blue ribbon commission started working on plans to shut down the HEPC. Gee, as blue ribbon commission co-chair, was an outspoken critic of the HEPC and openly advocated for it to be dismantled. Payne, also a blue ribbon commission member, was the chairman of the governance subcommittee charged with developing the plan and legislation to replace HEPC with a new Office of Postsecondary Education.

While talked about during blue ribbon commission meetings, the plan and draft legislation were still not ready as of Dec. 13, 2018, the full commission’s last meeting. But on Feb. 12, House Bill 3096 was introduced during the 60-day legislative session. It would have replaced HEPC with the Office of Postsecondary Education. The bill was never taken up in committee.

While HEPC chairman Mike Farrell didn’t object to Long’s hiring in July, he did later become a vocal opponent on the blue ribbon commission to Gee and Payne’s plans to scrap the HEPC.

“The Executive Order published by the Governor that established the Blue Ribbon Commission charged us to analyze a broad swath of issues,” Farrell wrote in a letter last year. “It did not ask us to confirm the agenda of one institution that is uncomfortable with the state law that requires HEPC to collect and analyze data relevant to the accountability and performance of each institution.”

The choice of Long did not sit well with some members of the HEPC. Commissioner Jenny Allen, the chief operating office of SkyTruth and a Shepherdstown resident, moved to table the resolution at the July meeting to give commissioners more time to interview chancellor candidates.

The commission’s attorney, Bruce Walker, resigned his post immediately after the vote. Walker believed that hiring Long violated state code that requires that a chancellor be free of bias for any state college or university. In state code, a chancellor is required to have significant higher education experience.

State code also requires a nationwide search and has no interim chancellor position. At that same meeting, the commissioners halted the nationwide search it started last March. After standing to address commissioners, Walker said “Bruce out” and walked out the door.

Paul Hill served as HEPC chancellor since 2012 and announced his intent to retire last March. In July, the commission voted to approve a six-month sabbatical for Hill, who remained on the HEPC payroll at his same salary of more than $278,000 until Jan. 16. Long was paid the same amount during her time as interim chancellor.

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