When your Faculty Senate votes 77-19 in favor of your resigning or being fired from your job, you have some serious issues. And Mike Garrison has some serious issues to deal with. Obviously, the cause of these issues is the Heather Bresch degree scandal. But his problems with the West Virginia faculty goes a little farther back then that. Actually, it starts from the day he was awarded the job as President of West Virginia University.
From the moment the search began for a replacement for David Hardesty, many were calling the search fixed. While other candidates had far more educational experience, Garrison's name continued to make it through cuts until the final three candidates were revealed. Garrison, Daniel O. Bernstine, 59, president of Portland State University in Oregon, and M. Duane Nellis, 52, a former arts and sciences dean at WVU and now provost of Kansas State University.
The faculty made their choice clear that they wanted someone who was in education. And many expressed their concern about bringing in a politician over an experienced educator. But, for whatever reason, the Board of Governors chose Garrison. Whether truly a factor or not, the perception that Garrison used his political ties to land the job was overwhelming. And the feeling around West Virginia University was that the search was rigged from the beginning and that the Governor used his influence to choose Garrison.
Fast forward to more recent events. Joe Manchin's face has been all over West Virginia University in recent months. Whether real or imagined, the perception of his influence is everywhere. Whether it be on the sideline during football games or basketball games, there was a real feeling that he was pulling strings at the university. After the Heather Bresch story broke and the university retroactively awarded her an executive MBA, the feeling Manchin was really running the university was overwhelming.
While there was outcry about the retroactive award despite the lack of evidence, Garrison and WVU acted arrogantly in not explaining their decision and not truly investigating the events leading to Bresch's assertions that she earned the degree. Once again, the perception, whether real or imagined, that political pressure was running the university was overwhelming. The fact Bresch was working for Mylan, a major contributor to the university, also helped push the theory that the fix was in, so to speak.
After an independent panel released a scathing assessment of West Virginia University's decision to retroactively award an executive MBA degree Heather Bresch, Provost Gerald E. Lang and R. Stephen Sears, dean of the college of business and economics, both resigned. The report said the school's administrators used "severely flawed" judgment in awarding a degree to Bresch. WVU administrators lacked documentation to prove Bresch's claims that she'd finished her final semester with work experience credits, relying too heavily on verbal assertions and caving to political pressure -- whether real or perceived, the panel said. Obviously, that pressure would start at the top and trickle down to employees like Lang and Sears, or that would be the perception.
Regardless of what happened, the close ties between WVU and the governor's office have hurt the university, the faculty and the students. Whether Garrison truly caved to political pressure or not has become secondary to the perception that Bresch received special treatment because of her father and because of the relationship between her father and Mike Garrison. Garrison may survive the storm and keep his job but he will never be able to repair the damage done to the relationship between him and the faculty. A faculty that never wanted him to begin with.