By LACIE PIERSON
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates advanced a bill Tuesday 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 committee substitute for House Bill 2542 stirred some substantial arguments in the House Tuesday, where its supporters said it would decentralize management of the institutions from the state government and provide the universities better ability to attract and keep talent.
The bill’s opponents said the bill was imprecise in defining employees’ rights, saying that there were no measures that protected employees in the case of layoffs. They also noted the bill was rushed through the legislative process in the House, giving the full body little time to scrutinize the bill.2
The delegates from Cabell and Wayne counties split along party lines, voting 4-4 on the measure. Dels. Chuck Romine, Carol Miller, Matt Rohrbach and Kelli Sobonya, all R-Cabell, voted in favor of the measure. Dels. Sean Hornbuckle and Chad Lovejoy, both D-Cabell, and Robert Thompson and Ken Hicks, both D-Wayne, voted against it.
Del. Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, made a motion to hold off voting on the bill until the House convened Wednesday to give delegates an extra day to talk with constituents and examine the bill, but the measure to delay the final vote failed in a 37-62 vote.
The bill originally was introduced to the House on Monday, Feb. 20, and it went through the legislative process in the House in eight days.
If signed into law in its current form, 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.
Currently, public higher education institutions in West Virginia operate under a state-mandated salary schedule, employee classification 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 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 has received cautious support from Marshall University as a whole, with Marshall President Jerome 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.
“We could create a system that would be more advantageous to (classified staff),” Gilbert said during the meeting. “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.”
Marybeth Beller, associate political science professor, is the chairwoman of the Marshall Faculty Senate Legislative Affairs Committee.
Beller said Marshall’s faculty members haven’t shaped a collective voice on the bill, but the Faculty Senate legislative committee communicated its concerns about the bill to the House Education Committee last week.
Beller said the committee requested to have HB 2542 amended to state that Marshall’s Board of Governors may create a rule with respect to staff and faculty with the consent of Staff Council and Faculty Senate. As the bill now stands, only consultation from faculty is required.
“Universities have systems of shared governance, which is why the committee believes it is necessary to replace the language of ‘consultation,’ as the bill reads, with ‘consent,’ thereby bringing faculty into the shared governance process,” Beller said.
Marshall Faculty Senate President Paige Muellerleile said faculty had been given the impression by Gilbert that Marshall officials would be willing to put into its policies language ensuring no layoffs would take place at the university without consent of the faculty senate.
Muellerleile said having more flexibility outside the current state-mandated salary schedule would be beneficial to faculty, saying the current salary schedule maxes out employees’ productivity and earning potential in such a way that they can’t be rewarded with raises for good performance without having to be reclassified.
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