Professors at Marshall University say President Stephen Kopp and his administration have deliberately delayed access to information about the school’s budget, even proposing to charge more than $54,000 for documents that a school attorney says would take three months to produce.
Kopp’s chief of staff, Matt Turner, denies any attempt to intimidate staff or keep information secret.
But the American Federation of Teachers of West Virginia tells the Charleston Gazette ) it believes the administration has violated state law, and it’s threatening legal action.
“This is master manipulation,” said finance professor Dallas Brozik, one of two faculty members who filed Freedom of Information Act requests after a budget dispute with the administration. “It seems like they’re trying to cover it up and stall as long as they can. But it’s our right to know.
“Before we can do anything of intelligence with the budget problems, we need to look under the hood,” Brozik said. Kopp “said he was going to be transparent, but actions speak louder than words.”
Faculty passed a no-confidence vote on Kopp by a nearly 3-1 ratio on May 1 after he secretly swept all departmental accounts — some $10 million — into a central holding account overnight.
Kopp, who said he wanted to analyze revenues and expenses, later apologized and had the money returned. But he’s also said that Marshall’s current budgeting model isn’t suitable for an institution of its size, especially when it’s facing a $5 million cut in state funding. Marshall has about 14,000 students.
Kopp wants a more centralized model to allow for better fiscal management, simplified fees for students and the creation of a faculty and staff compensation pool.
Brozik filed a FOIA request for five years’ worth of budget data on May 10.
Associate general counsel Jendonnae Houdyschell told him the request wasn’t specific enough and said it would cost $54,296 to compile, review, redact and print some 300,000 pages.
Brozik said he revised his request several times, reducing his request to the past three fiscal years. The bill for that was about $32,000.
He then asked for electronic records to avoid printing costs.
“This information does not exist in an electronic format which we can utilize to provide you with this information,” Houdyschell replied.
Education professor James Sottile filed similar requests and received similar responses.
Marshall officials said it would cost the school nearly $10,000 just to collect and organize the documents.
In a second request, Sottile was told certain records didn’t exist and Marshall isn’t obligated to create them.
Christine Barr of the AFT-West Virginia said her organization believes Kopp has violated state law, which only allows government bodies to charge for the “actual cost” of reproducing public records.
“When the accounts were swept, and the faculty became so upset, Kopp said his door was always open, and said he would be more transparent,” Barr said, “so they started asking, and they’ve been shut down.
“Apparently, the cost of transparency is $54,000.”
Turner, however, insists nothing sinister is afoot.
“There’s no attempt to not disclose information to them or anything sinister as would be suggested,” he said.
“There are a lot of pages,” Turner said. “Anything involving costs is based upon the amount of effort that would produce the documents requested. There’s no intent to intimidate.”
He declined further comment but said a budget work group has been created since the account-sweep dispute and is making progress.