Sustained Outrage

Is it OK to refer to this as a ‘WVU study’?

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Earlier this week, West Virginia University President James Clements announced during his State of the University address that WVU was forming a new research center to work on Marcellus Shale drilling issues.

It’s interesting then, that one yet-to-be completed “WVU study” is being touted already as proof that drilling does not have anything to do with methane ending up in groundwater supplies.  The website Marcellus Drilling News reported:

Dr. Shikha Sharma, an assistant professor at West Virginia University and the lead researcher of a new WVU study looking at the source of methane found in water supplies (see this MDN story), says those who think that hydraulic fracturing is the cause of methane found in their water supply may be wrong. And she can prove it—scientifically.

That post was apparently based on a Wheeling paper story that reported:

Those who believe their drinking water wells may be contaminated with methane released by natural gas fracking may be wrong, according to a West Virginia University professor.

“The source of methane gas can range from active or inactive deep coal mines, landfills, gas storage fields or microbial gas generated in a shallow subsurface,” said assistant professor Shikha Sharma, noting that dissolved methane gas already exists in groundwater where there is no shale gas drilling.

“As a scientist, it is my job to stay focused on the scientific perspective of this study while staying neutral on the political and social issues associated with it,” she added.

But the story also reported:

With the jury still out on whether fracking can release methane into groundwater, Sharma continues her study. It is being funded by a $25,000 grant from the U.S. Geological Survey, provided through the West Virginia Water Research Institute. This money allows Sharma and her graduate student, Michon Mulder, to gather and test water samples from groundwater wells in the Monongahela River watershed.

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Does WVU want to distance itself from these?

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Fresh from a 2009 tour of a simulated underground coal mine at the WVU Academy for Mine Training are, from left: Chris Hamilton, executive vice president, WV Coal Association; WVU President Jim Clements; Engineering Dean Gene Cilento; and Bill Reid, Coal News.  WVU photo.

We had a story in Saturday’s Gazette-Mail detailing efforts by West Virginia University officials to distance themselves from research being conducted by the university’s faculty. In an e-mail request to local media, WVU spokesman John Bolt said:

… We’re asking those who write about our faculty’s research to refrain from describing those as a “WVU study” or using other phrasing that would imply or could be interpreted as the institution taking a position on any particular issue. Other phrasing might be “a study conducted at WVU,” or “a study by WVU faculty member …”

Bolt said the request “was not developed in reaction to any particular research being conducted on campus.

But as we noted in our story:

The move comes as a series of peer-reviewed papers by a WVU faculty member about mountaintop removal’s potential negative public health effects are receiving widespread media coverage and intense criticism from the coal industry.

The story was picked up The Ticker, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog.

A glance through WVU’s many websites, though, provides a fascinating look at a variety of studies that the university claims as its own:

— A “WVU Report” that concludes increased oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation will open the door to a “new energy economy” for the region.

— Another “WVU study” that promotes the Marcellus Shale as having the “potential for significant economic development in West Virginia.”

— A “WVU forecast” that projected an economic recovery is underway in West Virginia.

— A report in which WVU claims all sorts of economic activity by its faculty, staff and students as the university’s contribution to the state’s economy.

— A news release that tells us, “WVU eagle research goes nationwide.”

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Beer-sale comments at WVU released

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West Virginia University on Monday released the 326 comments it has received concerning a proposed policy change that would allow beer sales at football games and other athletic events.

Many people who commented are adamantly opposed to alcohol consumption at Milan Puskar Stadium at Mountaineer Field. Ed Dicken simply wrote “NO!” in large type. His was among one of the first comments that WVU received between April 8 and May 13.

“Enough money is being made off football games without throwing alcohol into the equation,” wrote Mike Snyder of Harman.

Other fans say it would further a negative image of WVU as a “party school” and make Mountaineer Field even less family-friendly.

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Ryan Diviney: Tragedy of a night in Morgantown

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The Washington Post has a story today about West Virginia University student Ryan Diviney, who was walking to the Dairy Mart on Willey Street next to WVU’s main campus when he was assaulted after exchanging words with some fellow students.

Diviney is now in a coma and cared for at home by his parents.

Last month Austin Vantrease was sentenced to prison for two to 10 years for his part in the beating. He was convicted of malicious assault in July

Co-defendant Jonathan May, 19, of Newark, Del., is serving a one-year sentence for misdemeanor battery.

Below is the story Kathryn Gregory and I did on Diviney and campus security at WVU in November 2009.

Recent violent incidents buck statistics, police say

Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009

By Kathryn Gregory and Gary A. Harki

Ryan Diviney was just going to get a snack the night he was severely beaten in a Morgantown parking lot.

The 20-year old West Virginia University student from Ashburn, Va., was going with some friends to the Dairy Mart on Willey Street about 3 a.m. Nov. 7, when they passed another group of students. The two groups exchanged words and started fighting, said Sgt. Steve Ford of the Morgantown Police Department.

“The fight didn’t last very long,” Ford said. “It took seconds.”

According to witnesses, the people who attacked Diviney and his friends continued to kick and assault him after he had already fallen to the ground.

Diviney is now in a coma in an Atlanta hospital, according to www.ryansrally.org, a Web site set up to update Ryan’s friends and family on his condition.

His beating was the most severe, but by no means the only, instance of violence against a WVU student this school year. But according to statistics provided by WVU police, fewer violent crimes have been reported this year than in 2007, despite a larger student population.

Still, several high-profile incidents have occurred on and around WVU’s campus in recent weeks.

On Oct. 18, 18-year-old WVU student Gregory T. Hansen was stabbed and seriously injured in a scuffle at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Third Street, according to Morgantown police.

One week later, on Oct. 25, police responded to a report of gunshots outside Summit Hall. No one was injured, but police found several bullet casings and bullet holes in the building’s exterior.

On Nov. 11, a female student was walking across campus outside Arnold Hall when a male elbowed her in the stomach, grabbed her purse and ran away. Although the female was not seriously injured, police categorized the incident as a strong-armed robbery because of the physical contact involved.

The next day, a male student allegedly forced his way into the rooms of several female students at the Towers dormitories and fondled the students, according to WVU police. Ethan Kyle Dye, 18, of Parkersburg, was charged with first-degree sexual abuse and released on a $10,000 cash bond.

Trends

WVU police responded to 11 violent crimes in October, including both aggravated and simple assaults, compared to 20 such incidents in October 2007, according to university police statistics.

“The trend so far is that crime is down,” said WVU spokesman Dan Kim. “That’s not to take away from the seriousness of any of the things that happened this year. … The university takes the safety of our campus and students very seriously.”

Two incidents involving weapons occurred in October, the first since March 2007, according to Clery report statistics released by WVU police. Before that, they say, the last campus incident involving weapons was in January 2006. (The Clery Act requires all colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses.)

Two sex crimes, one categorized as a sexual assault and another as a sexual offense, were reported at WVU in September. The most recent reported sexual assault before that was in February.

The university works with police and students to curb crime. Campus police are working with Morgantown police to solve the Diviney case and others, Kim said.

“We have Ryan and his family in our thoughts and prayers,” he said.

Police arrived on the scene of Diviney’s assault moments after someone called 911, said Morgantown police Sgt. H.W. Sperringer.

Family members, who declined to be interviewed for this story, have credited the police department’s quick response with saving Diviney’s life.

“We’ve definitely had some fights, but this actually, based on injuries, is not normal. We don’t get a lot of injuries this serious,” Sperringer said. “It’s a shame this had to happen. You don’t like to see people hurt here in town.”

The Dairy Mart faces a wall of windows in Arnold Hall, the southernmost student housing building on West Virginia University’s sprawling campus. Police have leads in the case but want anyone who saw something that night to contact them, Ford said.

“Ryan’s fevers have not been as high over the past day or so, although they are as frequent,” a family member wrote on the Web site on Thanksgiving day.

“He really looks like his old self, as I remember seeing him sleeping. He was able to tolerate being in a seated position for four hours today.

“We pray that he will wake from his deep sleep every possible second. We pray he will heal, both physically and mentally. We simply pray for his happiness.”

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119. Reach Gary Harki at gharki@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.

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deborah-howell-thumb-200x250.jpgDeborah Howell, the wife of former interim West Virginia University President C. Peter Magrath, was remembered this week as an ombudsman who called out columnists and reporters, but also those who she believed unfairly criticized the journalists’ work on the pages of The Washington Post.

Howell, 68, died Jan. 2 in an accident in New Zealand, where she was vacationing with Magrath, according to the Post. Howell was considered an innovator and a champion for female journalists. As a top editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, she saw the newspaper win two Pulitzer Prizes.

She took over the Washington bureau of Newhouse News Service in 1990, according to the Post, which noted:

“Instead of concentrating on the government and institutional Washington, she focused coverage on such topics as race, gender and sexuality, technology and  religion.” 

In a statement, West Virginia University President Jim Clements said, “Deborah was an important part of the WVU community during the year Peter was our interim president. While she continued her career as a respected journalist in Washington, she was supportive of Peter’s passion to serve WVU.”     

WVU increases tuition … again

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From 1997 to 2008, West Virginia University’s annual tuition and fees had increased about 92 percent for in-state undergraduate students, according to a report of the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

As of Friday, make that 99 percent.

As was reported in the Saturday Gazette-Mail, BOG members approved the increase after student representative Jason Parsons and Morgantown attorney Steve Goodwin argued that struggling West Virginians don’t deserve another financial hardship in an already beaten-down economy.

In-state undergraduates will be faced with at least a $102 per-semester increase, while non-residents face at least a $316 increase. Depending on her major, the student will likely pay more. Increases for graduate students are similar.

Students chiseled on rising textbook prices

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West Virginia University student leaders worry about the rising costs of required textbooks and the low resale value of most of those texts at the WVU Bookstore, now run by Barnes and Noble College Booksellers. Our Sunday story details their concerns.

A number of reports point to a growing national concern about high textbook costs, especially in a troubled economy.

Students refer to a detailed report on those rising prices prepared for Congress and published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in July 2005. The report, “College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases,” points out that textbook prices have risen at double the rate of inflation for the past 20 years (see GAO chart below). The GAO also provides a brief summary of this report.

textbookprices.JPG

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is leading efforts to get federal legislation passed to protect students from excessive textbooks costs. Durbin’s Senate website has several other statements about rising textbook costs.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission created a “Statewide Task Force of Textbook Affordability,” which has not yet published its report. The commission’s website discusses the forthcoming report and has links to related news publications on this issue.

The Policy Commission also provides a place on its website for people to post their own comments about textbooks costs. People can read previously posted comments here.

WVU secrecy VI

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Last week, we reported the ways WVU kept secret its deliberations in hiring James P. Clements as the school’s 23rd president. You’d think now that the Higher Education Policy Commission has confirmed the Board of Governors’ pick and agreed to his salary of $450,000, that WVU might be more forthcoming in details of Clements’ other compensation and perks.

However, WVU officials on Monday declined to share this public information without the delays of a formal Freedom of Information Act request.

In an e-mail, WVU spokesman Dan Kim wrote:

 “I think the best approach would be for you to submit a FOIA for the contract. That contract is not yet complete, but you should go ahead and submit your request. I think that will be the best way to get answers to your questions.”

    

WVU Secrecy V

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Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9
Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9
Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number…

— Lennon-McCartney

The West Virginia University Board of Governors continues to thumb its nose at the public. The Associated Press reports this afternoon that the board has selected its pick to be the next president of West Virginia’s flagship university.

But as the AP also reports, the board didn’t release the name of its choice:

The candidate of choice is only being referred to as Candidate No. 9 until he is approved by the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission.

When it wrote the state’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act, the Legislature specifically tried to prevent exactly this sort of nonsense.

Here’s what it says in W.Va. Code 6-9A-8(a):

…The members of a public agency may not deliberate, vote, or otherwise take official action upon any matter by reference to a letter, number or other designation or other secret device or method, which may render it difficult for persons attending a meeting of the public agency to understand what is being deliberated, voted or acted upon.

If the Board of Governors wants to vote based on numeric codes, they have to give the public the codes. Here’s what the law says:

…This subsection does not prohibit a public agency from deliberating, voting or otherwise taking action by reference to an agenda, if copies of the agenda, sufficiently worded to enable the public to understand what is being deliberated, voted or acted upon, are available for public inspection at the meeting.

WVU Secrecy IV

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We shouldn’t pick on the WVU Board of Governors for shrouding the selection of a new university president in secrecy (See WVU Secrecy I, WVU Secrecy II and WVU Secrecy III) … because they’re not the only ones hiding behind closed doors.

The state Higher Education Policy Commission is also keeping the public out. Commission members scheduled a meeting for 4 p.m. today in Charleston. Like the WVU Board of Governors, they sidestepped the state Open Meetings Act requirement that agencies announce their meetings 5 days ahead of time, by calling today’s gathering an “emergency meeting.”

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