W. Va.Presidential Appointment Draws Charges of Nepotism, Racism
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The head of the state NAACP is claiming the new president at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College received the job because her husband is state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin.
The State College System Board of Directors named Joanne Tomblin late last month to oversee the community college in Logan and Boone counties.
Tomblin, who is White and holds a master’s degree in journalism from Marshall University, was picked from a field of 39 applicants, including 37 who hold doctoral degrees.
Dr. Ervin Griffin, a Black candidate and vice president at West Virginia State College, was one of the candidates passed over for the job.
“The State College System Board’s majority has once again shown that it is more committed to political expediency and the race of the candidates at the expense of qualified and prepared educational leaders in this state,” says state NAACP President James Tolbert.
Phil Reale, a college system board member who voted for Tomblin, says the allegations of racism are “completely false.”
The president of a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People agrees.
NAACP Chapter President Stephen Hairston says his local chapter endorsed Tomblin as its first-choice candidate for the school’s presidency, with Griffin as their second pick.
Griffin was the candidate preferred by college system board Chairman Joseph Peters, who voted against Tomblin.
But Griffin says even a blind person could see why he was passed up for the presidency. Griffin was said to have been considered a favorite by board members as late as the day before the votes were cast. But in a surprising turn of events, Tomblin was selected in a 7-2 vote.
“I’ve never encountered anything like this,” says Peters, who has been on the board for 10 years. “I don’t know if all the other board members knew something I didn’t know.”
Peters and Harry C. Young Jr., dean of student affairs at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., were the two board members who voted against Tomblin. Student board member Robert Scott abstained from the vote.
Young would not comment on his decision, but Peters says one reason he voted against Tomblin is because she lacks a doctoral degree. “I didn’t think she was the best candidate for the position,” he says.
An advertisement placed by the State College System says the board preferred candidates with a doctoral degree, but it was not required, says Dr. Clifford Trump, the system’s chancellor. Still, the overwhelming majority of candidates who had applied for the position held doctoral degrees.
“I certainly have nothing against [Tomblin] personally,” Peters says. “I’ve known her for a long time. [But] I really believe a person leading an institution should be at the top of their field. It seems to me that would be consistent with what we’ve done in the past.”
When she takes office later this month, Tomblin, 46, will be the only college president in the state without a terminal degree. West Virginia University President David Hardesty, the only other president without a doctorate degree has a law degree. In her capacity as president of West Virginia Community College, Tomblin will earn $95,000 annually. She was not available for comment.
Peters says that Tomblin had initially said she would not be willing to further her education if granted the position. But the day the votes were cast, Trump informed board members that Tomblin had changed her mind.
Tomblin has held various positions at the college over the past 18 years. She is currently the vice president for economic development and community relations at the school.
“We thought someone with enough experience would be equivalent [to someone with a Ph.D.],” Trump says. “I know there was some comment about her academic record, but she’s committed to the board and to strengthening her professional development.”
Peters disagrees with the weight given to that requirement.
“That’s no requirement of presidents we’ve had at other schools,” Peters says. “We’ve talked more about knowing the rudiments and the foundations of higher education. [In this case], that seemed to just slip through the cracks.”
Peters also is disturbed by how quickly his board colleagues’ sentiments about the top candidates changed. The day before the vote, he recalls at least one board member expressing concerns that Tomblin “doesn’t know anything about what she should know.”
Griffin expressed his reaction to the board’s decision in an open letter dated Oct. 28. “I am disappointed in the decision,” he wrote. “I have had to delve deeply into my reservoir of good will and belief in a higher power to accept the decision especially after reading the circumstances surrounding the appointment.”
Griffin adds that he’s not so concerned about himself, but about the message this decision sends to students, like those he works with at West Virginia State College.
“I tell them, if you go to college, you complete your degrees, and you get the appropriate experience, you will have the opportunity to go anywhere you want to go.” But this situation negates that, he says.
Griffin finds the situation so unfair, he says he may pursue “legal remedies.”
When asked whether Tomblin will do a good job as president, Peters says, “I have no way of knowing truthfully. But [after talking to her], there’s no reason for me to be optimistic.”
As far as he knows, Peters says, Senate President Tomblin has not said anything individually to board members prior to their decision.
“But I do know that some of our people are friends of his, and I consider myself a friend of his,” Peters says. “I’m certain some of our people would not want to do anything to hurt that friendship.”
Tomblin replaces Travis Kirkland, who resigned in July.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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