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Bill gives ‘more autonomy’ to higher education


Times West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.  — Gov. Jim Justice visited West Virginia University Tuesday to sign House Bill 2815 pertaining to higher education governance.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, front, signs House Bill 2815 Tuesday at West Virginia University’s Stewart Hall.
(Photo by Kelsie LeRose)

The legislation will give greater freedom and flexibility to West Virginia University including Potomac State College and West Virginia University Institute of Technology, along with Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM).

According to a press release from Justice’s office, “The reform legislation will give more autonomy to these institutions and realign the role of the Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC).

“The bill preserves the HEPC to serve its core function as a coordinating body and to oversee and undertake regional and statewide higher education policy initiatives for the public good.”

Justice was joined by West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee, Marshall University President Jerry Gilbert and WVSOM President Dr. Michael Adelman for the bill signing.

“This is an important moment for us and for higher education,” Gee said. “First of all, our governor has been a tenacious supporter of higher education. Second of all, this is the governor’s bill; he did propose this, and of course we are delighted about that.”

Adelman added that he is very thankful to the governor for leading the way on the bill.

“It really was his insight to put this together,” he said. “Also a great thank you to Legislature for moving this bill forward. It really gives all three of the schools the opportunity for more autonomy and the ability to enhance our programs and provide great service and education to the citizens of West Virginia.”

Justice said he has been instrumental in his beliefs that this should be done, but there have been a lot of people involved.

Gee also recognized Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, chair of the Education Committee; and Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, vice-chair of the Education Committee, for their work in passing the bill.

“This bill went through the House and the Senate with only six dissenting votes,” Gee added.

Gee said the bill will allow the universities to work together.

“This bill represents an opportunity for higher education to take a leadership roll in making this state not only a place of dreams and hopes but a place of opportunity,” he said. “That simplicity and the ability to be able to in so many ways have an opportunity to be in charge of people’s dreams through this bill is going to be very important.”

Gilbert said the flexibility that the bill gives will be very important in advancing higher education in the state.

“I want to give the governor and Legislature credit for giving this opportunity to advance our education,” he said. “I think it is great that WVU, the Osteopathic school and Marshall can come together to support higher education and have our partners in the governor’s office and Legislature.”

Justice added that it is a good day and that often times the greatness of the state’s universities is kind of handcuffed.

“This is just giving these great people that know so much more about what and how to do than maybe the powers to be that are trying to guide them,” he said. “It gives them the power to make real decisions and move us forward as they should.”

Although everyone has different styles, Justice said his style to to stop and listen to the people with the expertise.

“These people on the front lines; they are not doing it for fun,” he said. “They have got real knowledge, and we think we are higher than their knowledge.

“My style is to try to listen, try to give guidance, (and) try to give oversight, but we have got to listen and let these people give us real ideas of how to move the ball down the road.”

Justice added that he believes the state needs to stop “torpedoing universities” by cutting funding.

“I think we have picked enough,” he said. “Basically what happens next is now when you pick there is nowhere to turn other than losing services, raising tuitions and constricting. … I don’t believe that is what we need to do.

“There are things within this bill that will help, but the other flip side of it is if you go to the budget that was delivered to me there are things there that are going to put us to the point of no return other than closing schools. Imagine if we have to close Fairmont State or Concord College. … We are better than that. I think that I am just smart to listen to them.”

The bill was passed April 8 and will go into effect in July.

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