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WVU Faculty Senate calls on president to quit

/ Source: The Associated Press

West Virginia University's Faculty Senate on Monday demanded that the school president resign over the improper awarding of a degree to the governor's daughter, saying the college cannot rebuild its reputation until he leaves office.

The nonbinding motion of no confidence — which passed 77-19, with one abstention — demands that President Mike Garrison step down, or that the WVU Board of Governors require his resignation.

"We all want the healing to begin, but this will not be possible until after a thorough cleansing," said math professor Sherman Riemenschneider, who sponsored the motion. "Our wounds are too deep."

Garrison has repeatedly said he won't resign. He has support from the Board of Governors and Gov. Joe Manchin, who appointed the majority of the board.

In a statement issued Monday evening, Garrison said he will continue to work closely with faculty, "particularly those who have already demonstrated a commitment and willingness to work with others across campuses, across disciplines, and across differences of opinion, on each of the challenges that face us."

Faculty discontent and outrage have grown since an independent panel concluded April 23 that WVU administrators and educators gave Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, a degree she didn't earn.

Provost Gerald Lang and business school Dean R. Stephen Sears have resigned their administrative posts to return to teaching, and at least one donor has threatened to withhold gifts.

Several Garrison aides, including chief of staff Craig Walker, participated in the October meeting where Sears, Lang and others decided to add courses and grades to Bresch's transcript, then retroactively award her a 1998 executive master's of business administration degree.

The panel determined there was no academic foundation for concluding Bresch had earned the degree, and that administrators relied too heavily on verbal assertions and caved to political pressure — real or perceived.

The report did not cite evidence that Garrison directly interfered, but concluded the presence of key staff created "palpable" pressure to go along.

"This was not a minor change. This was not a minor mistake. The prerogative of the faculty was usurped," said Sophie Blades, a representative for retired faculty at Monday's meeting. She called the case "an academic crime."

Physics professor Boyd Edwards said Garrison has enraged alumni and prompted donors to close their wallets. Students, he said, are even threatening to disrupt next week's commencement.

For Garrison to remain now would show "he cares more about himself than about WVU," Edwards said.

Monday was not the first time WVU's Faculty Senate voted against Garrison, a lawyer who entered the president's job last year with stronger political credentials than academic ones. The senate strongly supported the other finalist for the position.

Garrison previously worked for former Gov. Bob Wise and as a lobbyist for generic drug maker Mylan Inc., whose chairman, Milan Puskar, is a key donor to the university. Bresch is a Mylan executive and a longtime friend of Garrison.

Senate Chairman Steve Kite expressed support for Garrison, noting that he was not found to have participated in the decision to help Bresch.

"We should not be guided by suspicions or revisitation of the presidential search process," he said, praising Garrison for trying to create openness and giving the faculty more of a voice in governance.

"We would be flat-out lucky to find another president, no matter what their background, to be so inclined," he said.