Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sister Newspapers' News

July 25, 2012

MSU officials say transparency an issue at HLC

BECKLEY — On the heels of announcing a 50 percent employee layoff, Mountain State University officials are expressing concern over the Higher Learning Commission’s transparency.

Two weeks ago, The Register Herald asked Higher Learning Commission Public Information Officer John Hausaman verbally and via e-mail if the commission had transcripts of its June Board of Trustees Meeting in which it voted to withdraw Mountain State University’s accreditation and if these records were public.

After a third inquiry Tuesday, Hausaman reported via e-mail that institutional actions taken by the commission are conducted in executive session, the minutes of which are not available to the public.

Mountain State University Board of Trustees President Dr. Jerry Ice indicated he was unaware if the HLC kept recordings of their board meetings other than Public Disclosure Notices, like the one issued regarding its decision regarding MSU.

Ice said that when Mountain State University met with five members of the Higher Learning Commission in Chicago for a Show-Cause Hearing in May, a court reporter recorded the presentation and question and answer session and MSU was provided transcripts.

He went on to say that he and other university officials were made aware in writing that the five HLC representatives at the meeting would not make a report or recommendation to the Higher Learning Commission following the hearing.

“The five (HLC) trustees just listened. Why even have a hearing if they make no recommendation to the board?” questioned Ice.

Hausaman explained the hearing transcript is provided to the commission and the Show-Cause Hearing Committee is made available for the HLC Board of Trustees to ask questions prior to taking action.

Ice said that anyone who reads the transcripts of the Show-Cause Hearing, which have not been made available to The Register-Herald, “would come away thinking that MSU should at least be given an opportunity or a chance to continue to meet the standards asked of them.

“I am concerned that our progress has been ignored. We have been given no opportunity to demonstrate the changes we have made and most of the HLC’s concerns come back to our nursing program or other ancient history — not what's happening currently.”

Ice commented on the difficulty facing the MSU appeals committee.

“We are fighting a process that is very difficult to deal with, especially when asked to file the intent to appeal at the same time you have to file a teach-out. A teach-out is how we are going to find homes for those students who cannot complete the degree in the time frame approved by the HLC. It is almost saying we have no chance,” he expressed.

In a related matter, Lisa Noack, assistant to the president of the Board of Trustees of the Higher Learning Commission confirmed that commission president Dr. Albert Walker recused himself from discussion and voting regarding MSU’s accreditation.

Walker was president of Bluefield State College until September 2011.

Walker stated via e-mail: “It would be inappropriate for me to comment or discuss MSU.”

Ice, who was not aware if Walker had recused himself or not, commented, “I would take their word for it that he was not a part of the decision, but there is no record or any evidence one way or another. I would assume one would recuse themselves if they are president of a nearby and competitive institution.”

Ice concluded by reaffirming that Mountain State University has taken large steps to correct previous deficiencies, changes that take time to show improvement.

“We are not being given a chance to demonstrate the changes we have made and this is a decision that greatly effects a community that is heavily dependent on the university,” he said.

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