WVU, Marshall, WVSOM presidents thank Justice, legislators for “freedom” bill

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert and West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine President Michael Adelman today (April 25) issued a joint statement following Gov. Jim Justice’s signing of HB 2815, granting greater authority to the schools’ governing boards.

The text of the statement: 

We are writing to express our deepest thanks to the state Legislature and Gov. Jim Justice for taking action to modernize the state’s higher education governance system so that it can operate efficiently and serve all West Virginians.

By overwhelming margins in both houses, lawmakers voted to give governing boards at West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine greater power to set policies befitting their institutions, instead of relying on one-size-fits-all oversight from the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

This action puts West Virginia in line with many other states that have given their large public universities greater autonomy as state funding for those universities has declined.

As Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels wrote in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” last year, public universities “are subject to an arcane web of state bureaucratic rules that can reach every corner of the university … These sorts of rules reduce the autonomy of public research universities to act, sometimes in significant ways.”

In West Virginia, where West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine have lost nearly $44 million combined in state appropriation over the past several years, this new governance structure will help us be nimble and innovative enough to overcome our state’s challenges.

While funding has decreased in recent years, the need for higher education is at an all-time high. Since 2008, 11.8 million jobs have emerged in this country. But only 80,000 of those jobs required only a high school education. The rest required either a college degree or substantial post-secondary training.

Unfortunately, West Virginia has one of the nation’s lowest educational attainment rates.

Contrary to what others have suggested, WVU and Marshall have previously been given significant flexibility by the Legislature years ago. Indeed, for over a decade, we have had the ability, among other things, to approve programs on our campuses without the approval of the HEPC. And we believe that both of our institutions and the state of West Virginia have been better off because of the flexibilities that were provided many years ago. To suggest that enhanced decision-making at the local level will inhibit our universities and our ability to fulfill our missions to the state is simply flies in the face of common sense.

Indeed, although we will now have greater authority to make decisions affecting our campus, we will still work to keep high quality higher education affordable for West Virginians and we are required to comply with the policies established by the Legislature for the benefit of higher education. And we will still be fully accountable to West Virginians through our Boards of Governors, whose members are appointed by the governor and subject to the same confirmation process as members of any state board.

Likewise, our new governance structure will help our universities thrive as we continue reducing bureaucracy, increasing efficiency, seeking new revenue sources and doing all we can to lead transformation in West Virginia and around the world.

We, along with our sister institutions, will work diligently to create jobs for our state. We will develop the necessary partnerships to elevate our state’s economic growth to a new level. We will continue to do the research that improves the lives of 1.8 million West Virginians. And we will continue to educate our students so they can become the next generation of leaders who will carry this state into a new tomorrow.

We look forward to working alongside our leaders in government and in our business communities to continue building a more prosperous future for West Virginia.

E. Gordon Gee
President, West Virginia University

Jerome Gilbert
President, Marshall University

Michael Adelman
President, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine