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Dean resigns in gov's daugther degree scandal

April 28, 2008 1:39:14 PM PDT
The dean of West Virginia University's College of Business and Economics is resigning amid scandal over a master's degree awarded to the governor's daughter, the school announced Monday. R. Stephen Sears is the second high-ranking academic officer to leave as a result, following Sunday's announcement that Provost Gerald Lang is resigning. Both are to step down June 30.

An investigating panel concluded last week that the two men were among several administrators who acted inappropriately and applied "severely flawed" judgment in awarding Heather Bresch a degree the panel said she did not earn.

Bresch, the 38-year-old daughter of Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, works for one of the university's key donors, Milan Puskar, and is a longtime friend of WVU President Mike Garrison.

The panel that studied her executive master's of business administration degree, which was retroactively awarded last fall after records discrepancies were discovered, concluded the administration lacked an academic foundation for deciding she had earned the degree in 1998.

Those administrators relied too heavily on verbal assertions and caved in to political pressure, whether real or perceived, the panel said.

Garrison said Monday that while he took responsibility "for failures" that led to the awarding of the degree to Bresch, he never asked anyone to award "any credit, grades or degree in this case or in any other case."

"Like every member of the University community, I reject the idea that we should award any degree or credit not earned by the student," Garrison said.

Some professors have said they'll bring a motion before the Faculty Senate on May 12, calling for a vote of no confidence in Garrison.

The university's Board of Governors said Monday that Garrison has its "full support," and that it is confident he will "ensure this situation does not occur again."

Sears, dean since 2005, did not immediately issue a personal statement about his decision, and the administration did not immediately comment on it.

Lang apologized during the weekend.

"I am very sorry that my one action in ratifying a dean's decision in a single situation has had a negative impact on the institution," Lang wrote.

Sears and Lang were among eight university officials who attended a key Oct. 15 decision-making meeting. On Monday, Republican Party Chairman Doug McKinney and GOP gubernatorial candidate Russ Weeks echoed the call for all eight to resign. They also took aim at Garrison, though the report did not accuse him of any direct interference or wrongdoing.

"When you fill the presidency of the state's major university with a purely political appointment, it is not surprising when political scandals are the result," said McKinney, a WVU graduate. "The only way to put this behind us and begin to heal is for a clean sweep of everyone involved in this travesty."

Garrison, a politically connected attorney who worked for former Gov. Bob Wise, was appointed to his position in April 2007 over the objections of some faculty.

Lang has been the university's top academic officer for 13 years. For 19 years before that, he was a dean, assistant dean and faculty member.

Sears was previously senior executive associate dean of Rawls College of Business Administration at Texas Tech University, where he taught finance. He has also worked at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Manchin said through his spokeswoman, Lara Ramsburg, that Lang's departure is a matter for WVU to handle. Bresch has declined to comment on the resignations.

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Associated Press Writer Tom Breen contributed to this report from Charleston, W.Va.

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