HEPC starts new search for chancellor

CHARLESTON — The search is on for a new interim chancellor after the Higher Education Policy Commission accepted the resignation of Carolyn Long.

The HEPC held an emergency meeting Friday morning with commissioners dialing in to the HEPC’s conference room in downtown Charleston. The meeting lasted barely 30 minutes, with commissioners going into executive session to discuss the resignation and the next steps.

The vote to accept Long’s resignation was unanimous, which will go into effect May 15. Long was appointed interim chancellor in July 2018 shortly after the formation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education.

“We graciously accept your resignation,” HEPC Chairman Mike Farrell told Long after the vote. “The service you have provided has been outstanding. We’re very appreciative of all that.”

Long will be returning to West Virginia University Institute of Technology, where she was the campus president. No date has been set for her return to the Beckley campus.

“The May 15th date is one of your selection so you can get back to your campus,” Farrell said. “I’m sure your campus will welcome you back.”

“Yes, I’ve been told I can come back,” Long said to reporters about returning as WVU Tech’s campus president. Long said she talked to WVU President Gordon Gee about coming back. She took no further questions.

Farrell said the HEPC will do a search for a new interim chancellor and accept applications until April 10, then the commission will select the new interim chancellor at the regular meeting on April 26 in Charleston.

The commission had been looking for a permanent chancellor to replace Paul Hill, who announced his impending retirement last March. That nationwide search was called off in July after the creation of the blue ribbon commission which was charged by Gov. Jim Justice with looking at ways to improve the higher education structure in the state. Hill stayed on the payroll but went on a six-month sabbatical that ended in January.

Between July and December, the blue ribbon commission’s governance subcommittee started working on plans to dismantle the HEPC, including draft legislation that was never approved by the blue ribbon commission, but was introduced during the 2019 legislative session that ended March 9. It would have replaced the HEPC with a more-limited Office of Postsecondary Education, but the bill was never taken up.

The legislature plans to study the idea of reforming the HEPC during interim meetings held monthly at the State Capitol Building. Farrell said it doesn’t make sense to hire a permanent chancellor if lawmakers end up considering alternatives to the HEPC next year.

“The opportunity for a permanent chancellorship should be one that is fairly firm,” Farrell said. “I think that study group will tell us what the structure is going to be. The candidates for that permanent position will then have an opportunity to assess whether he or she wants this job … I don’t want West Virginia shortchanged because of the status of higher education policy making is in flux.”

Farrell, who also served on the blue ribbon commission, was a vocal opponent against dismantling the HEPC. He said he hasn’t heard whether the commission will continue. Its last meeting was Dec. 13 and the resolution creating the commission required a report with recommendations to be delivered to the governor in time for December legislative interim meetings.

“I don’t think the HEPC is going to be dismantled,” Farrell said. “(The legislature) left in place what some of the blue ribbon commission folks wanted to eliminate. In that posture, I think it would be presumptuous and premature for (the HEPC) to go out and hire a permanent chancellor when that permanent chancellor doesn’t know how long that position will be.”

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