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Embattled West Liberty University president steps down

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo Robin Capehart
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo
Robin Capehart

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. — Robin Capehart will step down as West Liberty University’s president effective Sunday amid allegations he violated the state Ethics Act.

After meeting behind closed doors for about an hour Wednesday, the university’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to accept Capehart’s resignation and reposition him as a “legislative liaison and consultant” to the school through the end of the year.

The board also named John McCullough, a 44-year WLU employee who most recently has served as an executive assistant to Capehart, as the school’s interim president, subject to approval by the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

Board Chairman George Couch said Capehart would receive the same salary he’s being paid now in his new role. Capehart received $233,573 in compensation during 2013, the most recent year for which figures were available.

Capehart did not attend Wednesday’s meeting and declined comment when contacted by The Intelligencer on Wednesday. He instead released the following statement:

“I am extremely grateful to the Board of Governors for their willingness to allow me to stay a part of the West Liberty University family while becoming involved with an area that is important to the university’s future,” he said.

Board of Governors Chairman George Couch declined to elaborate on what Capehart’s new duties will be, saying only that Capehart will report directly to him. He declined to comment further on the situation, citing the advice of legal counsel. The board released the following statement through university spokeswoman Maureen Zambito:

“The board thanks President Capehart for his contributions to the advancement of West Liberty University and acknowledges his many accomplishments during his tenure,” the statement reads. “The board wishes him well in his continuing efforts to engage the community and help the state.”

After the board voted to accept Capehart’s resignation, Couch announced he will call a special meeting of the board’s Finance Committee to undertake a review of all WV-48 agreements, which are contracts for services rendered by non-university employees. One such contract is a subject of the West Virginia Ethics Commission complaint against Capehart, which alleges he improperly allowed former WLU employee Kristin Seibert to work as a producer for his private film company, Flyover Films LLC, while the university was paying her as much as $4,000 for consulting work.

During discussion following the executive session, Board of Governors member Patrick Kelley, who participated by phone, asked the board’s lawyer, John Gompers, whether he believes cause exists to terminate Capehart’s contract.

Gompers said it’s possible, but further investigation would be necessary to make that determination. He added he believes a lawsuit would be likely were the board to fire Capehart at this point.

A small group of alumni in attendance Wednesday applauded as the meeting adjourned.

Chuck Jeswilowski, a 1969 graduate and president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the school’s Alumni Association, said the ethics investigation has been an embarrassment for the university.

“It was time to cut the ties and move on. … We need someone here who’s going to be dedicated 100 percent to West Liberty,” Jeswilowski said.

Evan Newman, student government representative to the Board of Governors, declined to comment directly on the Capehart matter, but said he believes McCullough is the right person to lead the school as it searches for a new president.

“I think Dr. McCullough is fully capable, and I’m glad the university is in his hands for the coming months and the journey ahead,” he said.

McCullough, who will receive no additional salary and is not a candidate for the permanent position of president, said he wishes Capehart the best. He said he looks forward to working with the university’s staff to ensure a smooth transition.

“The focus starts and stops with the students, and we can never lose track of that,” McCullough said.

Couch said the board will appoint a search committee “as soon as possible” to seek Capehart’s permanent replacement.

The Ethics Commission complaint filed in January accuses Capehart of using his position and university resources for personal gain in promoting his film company’s projects. In addition to the counts related to Capehart’s business relationship with Seibert, he also is accused of misusing a state purchasing card for expenses related to promoting his film company’s movie “Doughboy,” spending time away from the university to promote the film without taking leave, using public funds to purchase tickets for film crew members to attend a Wheeling YMCA fundraiser and having employees use school equipment to film promotional segments for the movie, which aired multiple times on the university’s television station.

The school’s Faculty Senate in a 13-6 decision March 2 issued a vote of no confidence regarding Capehart.

A public hearing on the charges against Capehart is scheduled for April 16 in Charleston. If found guilty by the Ethics Commission, he faces up to $65,000 in fines and could be ordered to pay restitution and reimburse the commission’s investigative costs.

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