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Bill giving MU, WVU staff control goes to governor

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would provide more flexibility in human resources and personnel management to Marshall University, West Virginia University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

The bill was approved in a 27-7 vote Tuesday afternoon, two weeks after the House of Delegates approved the measure.

The bill will advance to Gov. Jim Justice for his consideration.

Senators representing portions of Cabell and Wayne counties supported the measure 5-1.

Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, who represents portions of Wayne, Lincoln, Logan, Boone and Mingo counties, was the lone local vote against the measure.

If signed into law, HB 2542 would allow Marshall, WVU and WVSOM to adopt their own employee classification and compensation systems. It also provides language for other four-year institutions and community and technical colleges to apply for the same opportunities through the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Community and Technical College Council.

It also eliminates the mandate for a vice chancellor of human resources within the policy commission along with three support staff positions for that role.

Senators on Tuesday debated to what degrees the flexibility provided in the bill was meant to help universities attract the best talent, better manage their budgets, or make the process of employee layoffs a more simple one amid consecutive years of state budget cuts to public higher education.

“I understand the plight of higher education when we continue to reduce the amount of money we give to those institutions,” said Minority Leader Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion. “It makes more difference for them to manage and cut. There’s only so many options. This bill gives them some relief when we don’t fund them to the level they need to be funded.”

Prezioso asked Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, whether reductions in work force were the only options left for public higher education institutions to manage their budgets.

“I have not heard that mentioned, I’ll tell you that,” Mann responded. “It’s in all hopes in a budget crisis, you know I always expect the worst and hope for the best. This is going to set the stage to prepare them for the worst-case scenario of having to do layoffs.”

The question as to whether the bill is a veiled permission slip for employee layoffs has been raised by Marshall faculty since its inception.

Marshall Faculty Senate President Paige Muellerleile said last month that faculty had been given the impression by Marshall President Jerome Gilbert that Marshall officials would be willing to put into university policies language ensuring no layoffs would take place at the university without consent of the faculty senate.

Under current law, public higher education institutions in West Virginia operate under a state-mandated salary schedule, employee classification and seniority system, and human resources system.

The bill would allow Marshall, WVU and WVSOM to opt out of those mandates to do things like defining their own job classifications, seniority system and descriptions for classified positions. The universities also wouldn’t have to comply with the state’s salary schedule, meaning officials could offer more competitive salaries in response to the job market and subject to available money at each school.

The bill also strikes nearly all of the language defining employee rights in the event of layoffs and recalls.

The bill includes a measure requiring the governing board of a university participating in the new system consult with the staff council of that school prior to making any rules concerning reductions in work force of full-time classified employees.

It also requires any governing board to consult with the faculty senate of a participating school before adopting a rule related to faculty. The bill also said any rule passed by a governing board at a participating school will pre-empt any rules passed by the Higher Education Policy Commission or the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia.

The bill has received cautious support from Marshall University as a whole, with Gilbert voicing his support for the measure and Marshall faculty addressing their concerns with the House Education Committee earlier in February.

In his update to the Marshall University Board of Governors on Feb. 22, Gilbert shared his support for HB 2542.

Gilbert said Marshall officials were supportive of the bill, which he said would impact 75 percent of people employed at Marshall, and he said his goal was to increase salaries of Marshall staff and reward productivity.

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