University president Mike Garrison said late Wednesday it’s unclear whether disciplinary action should be taken against the high-ranking academic officers who ordered a change in the academic records of Heather Bresch, daughter of Gov. Joe Manchin.
“West Virginia University is strong, and this process and our honest response to it, both from our office and the board of governors makes us stronger, and shows that we are a university whose governance is both shared and open,” he said.
The independent panel led by two WVU faculty members issued a damning report Wednesday that said there was no academic foundation for last year’s decision to grant Bresch a 1998 executive master’s of business administration degree.
“Mistake was compounded by mistake. An unnecessary rush to judgment, spurred in some measure by an understandable desire to protect a valued alumna and to respond to media pressure, produced a flawed and erroneous result,” the panel concluded.
The report does not conclude that Bresch did anything wrong in seeking clarification of her academic record after her degree was called into question by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Nor does it directly fault Garrison, Bresch’s longtime friend.
Bresch recently argued she’d earned her degree fairly, substituting work experience in her final semester. However, her program adviser at the time, Paul Speaker, told The Associated Press he did not recall ever allowing outside work to replace classroom work.
Although some records had been destroyed, her transcript showed she did not have enough hours to graduate. After her degree was called into question, several high-ranking academic officers met privately and decided to grant her the degree retroactively.
The report suggested there was pressure from Gerald Lang, WVU’s chief academic officer, and “representatives of the president’s office” to accommodate Bresch — a charge both Lang and Garrison denied.
The Charleston Gazette, the state’s largest newspaper, published an editorial Thursday demanding resignations, while the student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum, said the administration has “trivialized all degrees this university has awarded and will award.”
The decision to grant Bresch the degree was made during an Oct. 15, 2007 meeting of Lang, College of Business & Economics dean R. Stephen Sears, three business school educators and three university administrators, including the university’s attorney.
The investigative panel determined that when Lang asked those attending the meeting about granting the degree to Bresch “the actual or perceived pressure to go along with this decision, not to ‘rock the boat,’ was palpable.”
Lang and Sears defended their conduct, saying they made the best decision possible with incomplete data. Lang declined to say whether he disagrees with the findings of the investigative panel.
Bresch said she is moving on.
“To put this issue behind us is the best course of action for everyone,” she said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Therefore, while I am not waiving my privacy rights, I will not challenge action by the university implementing the panel’s recommendations.”
Bresch’s academic record will revert to its original state. A master’s degree is not required for her job as chief operating officer of Mylan Inc., a generic pharmaceutical company based in Pittsburgh.
Sears said the business school will take several steps to refine its procedures, including hiring a records assistant.
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