Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 4, 2012

MSU set to make final appeal today

By Sarah Plummer
For the Daily Telegraph

Mountain State University officials will present an appeal to an independent panel today in Chicago, hoping to overturn the North Central Higher Learning Commission’s June decision to pull accreditation.

The appeal will assert that the university was in compliance with the accrediting body’s demands when the decision was made, said both University President Dr. Richard Sours and Dr. Jerry Ice, president of MSU’s Board of Trustees.

“We are confident that we are presenting good, strong, factual information. Whether that is going to be enough to sway the appeals panel, I don’t know,” said Sours.

“Our institution was unfairly dealt with. We are positive that our case is very strong and we will present documentation and evidence that we were in compliance with all of the standards of the HLC when they decided to pull accreditation,” added Ice.

Ice maintains that after the June 23, 2011, Show-Cause Order issued by the Higher Learning Commission, the university began to take action to correct deficiencies listed by the commission while dealing with separate state and national accrediting issues surrounding their undergraduate nursing program. Six months later the Board of Trustees fired former university president Dr. Charles Polk and actively began to drive changes.

School officials then met in Chicago in May of this year for a question and answer session following an on-site visit in Beckley by an HLC-appointed review team. At that time Ice reported that MSU had presented positive progress and major changes regarding the HLC’s concern over governance, leadership and faculty.

“Unfortunately, the documentation, evidence, and work have not yet been considered. The commission has focused on old history rather than current actions. They have based decisions on what happened before, not the progress made after the Show-Cause Order,” Ice said.

Today MSU will make their appeal to an independent panel appointed by the HLC from institutions across the accrediting region.

“This panel will have not been a part of the HLC’s past decisions and will have no direct relationship or experience with what has happened between MSU and the HLC in the past,” he added.

The independent panel should make a final decision within the next two weeks.

This will be the last chance for MSU to appeal and the independent panel’s decision is final.

“It is not a happy time for the university. We are shrinking down in size, our budget is decimated and we are laying off employees. This is our last effort to reverse this,” Sours said.

In a related matter, Ice stressed that the University of Charleston has been a good partner.

“We are in no-man’s land between accreditation being removed, it potentially being reinstated and in the middle of a teach-out,” he said. “Once the panel makes their decision, the board of trustees is going to have to make a decision about where we go from here. Do we rebuild the university? Will we continue the relationship with the University of Charleston?”