Sustained Outrage

WVU Secrecy III

Will Friday’s meeting of the West Virginia University Board of Governors — where board members are expected to name a new university president — be legal?

Remember that on Monday, WVU announced its selection committee (while meeting in private, unannounced meetings — See WVU Secrecy I)  had named two finalists. As my colleague Davin White reported, WVU said its governing board planned to pick one of the two on Friday, speeding up its selection process because apparently one of finalists won’t be available if a decision isn’t made really quickly.

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WVU Secrecy II

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(The WVU Board of Governors: From Left to Right: Front row: William O. Nutting, Parry G. Petroplus(former member), Raymond J. Lane, Paul Martinelli, Carolyn Long, Ellen Cappellanti, Dr. Thomas S. Clark, Dr. J. Steven Kite Back row: Oliver Luck, John T. (Ted) Mattern, Dr. Charles Vest, Stephen P. Goodwin, Jason Parsons, Edward L. Robinson, and James W. Dailey, II (Not pictured: Andrew A. (Drew) Payne, III and Diane Lewis)

williams.jpgclements.jpgOn Friday, the West Virginia University Board of Governors is expected to select a new president for the state’s flagship university. The two finalists are Gregory H. Williams (left), president of City College of New York since 2001, and James P. Clements, provost at Towson University in Maryland.

It seems likely that the Board of Governors will have all of its discussion about which candidate is right for WVU behind closed doors, in a private, executive session. Already, The Associated Press reports, both candidates — in Morgantown for meetings with faculty, staff and students — are scheduled to meet privately with the WVU board. And the board’s meeting agenda for Friday already states that the board members will hold an executive session to “discuss personnel matters related to the WVU Presidential Search.”

The WVU board, like most government agencies in West Virginia, will pretend that it is required to have these discussions about personnel issues in private. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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WVU Secrecy I

During and in the aftermath of the Heather Manchin Bresch  scandal, West Virginia University’s Board of Governors had its share of problems complying with open government requirements.

First, when Mike Garrison was resigning, the WVU board tried to hide the details of his departure agreement from the public and the media, as Emily Corio from West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported at the time.

Next, the WVU board shrouded the hiring of interim university President Peter Magrath in similar secrecy,  by voting on a motion to approve an agreement that no one from the public — including reporters covering the meeting — could see, again as Emily Corio explained:

As an audience member, it was unclear to me what the board was talking about and voting on, and this makes being a reporter difficult.  How am I supposed to tell listeners what happened at this meeting if public officials use vague language, issue statements to some reporters and not others, and then refuse to give straight answers to reporters when asked?

More importantly, how can you, a member of the public be informed and engaged if you do not have access to this information?

williams.jpgclements.jpgWell, now the WVU board is poised to hire a permanent replacement for Magrath at a meeting on Friday. The board’s presidential search process has narrowed the choice to two finalists, Gregory H. Williams (left), president of City College of New York since 2001, and James P. Clements, provost at Towson University in Maryland.

But up until now, the entire process has been done behind closed doors, with no public scrutiny or accountability.  Along the way, did the WVU board again violate the state’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act?

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