Gilbert: Proposed cuts to Marshall ‘unfair’

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University President Jerome “Jerry” Gilbert reiterated his disapproval of proposed cuts in state dollars to Marshall and West Virginia University on Wednesday.

In the Memorial Student Center, Gilbert told members of Marshall’s Board of Governors he planned to continue to voice his opposition to 4.4 percent cuts to each university’s budget that were proposed by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this month.

Gilbert also voiced his support for a bill proposed in the West Virginia House of Delegates that would allow Marshall and WVU to develop their own rules for employee classification, compensation and human resources systems during the meeting.

During his State of the State address earlier this month, Justice proposed cutting $2.8 million in state allocations from Marshall and $5.9 million from WVU as part of $26.6 million in proposed cuts to balance the state’s budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, 2017. Justice’s proposal also called for $450.15 million in tax increases and tax reforms.

The projected budget shortfall for the state of West Virginia for fiscal year 2018 is just below $500 million, and Gilbert said he was not a fan of the proposal the day after Justice announced it.

He was unwavering in those feelings Wednesday.

“I continue to believe this is unfair,” Gilbert said. “Just think about the thought process that goes behind singling out two universities like WVU and Marshall. So, if we have a surplus of money, the thought would be we don’t need to give any to WVU and Marshall. We’ll give it to the smaller schools because they need the money more. I don’t think that’s fair, and I will continue to say that.”

Gilbert took the opportunity to share his support for House Bill 2542, which was introduced in the House of Delegates Monday.

If passed by the full legislature, the bill would provide more flexibility in human resources and personnel management to Marshall and WVU. Other public four-year institutions and community and technical colleges would be able to apply for the same flexibility.

Currently, Marshall and WVU operate under a state-mandated salary schedule, employee classification system and human resources system. The bill would allow Marshall and WVU to opt out of those mandates and become more competitive against the private sector in attracting talent to their respective campuses.

Gilbert said Marshall officials were supportive of the bill, which he said would impact 75 percent of people employed at Marshall.

“We could create a system that would be more advantageous to (classified staff),” Gilbert said. “My goal is to increase the salaries of our staff and our faculty at Marshall University and to reward productivity and give people an option to improve themselves and be rewarded when they are productive.”

Also in his report, Gilbert said he was anticipating that enrollment at Marshall for fall 2017 would increase, though he said he couldn’t predict the margin by which it would rise.

Gilbert said Marshall experienced a 4.1 percent increase in applications over the same point in 2016, leading to a 1.9 percent increase in students being admitted to Marshall.

“That’s going to translate into some more students in the fall,” he said.

In other business, board members approved the implementation of a Master of Science degree program in electrical and computer engineering.

The addition of the degree is expected to increase graduate student enrollment and set the stage for an accelerated master’s degree program that would allow students to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering in a five-year span.

The program’s approval won’t require hiring of additional faculty. It is estimated to cost $1.12 million during its first five years, but generate between $1.85 million and $2.49 million for the university during that same time frame.

The degree will be offered beginning in the fall 2017 semester.

The board also approved changes to Board of Governors policies dealing with discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual and domestic misconduct, stalking and retaliation, as well as student rights and responsibilities.

The policy changes deal with bringing university policy in compliance with Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act as well as combining the student and faculty sexual misconduct policies into a single policy.

Other changes in the policies would combine portions of the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, as some of the procedures were redundant as they were expressed in the policy.

Marshall’s Faculty Senate also requested to review the changes to one portion of the policy, and the Board of Governors previously agreed to postpone consideration of the changes, pending that faculty review. Those portions of the code were not voted on Wednesday.

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