WLU board supports stance against deal with Bluefield State
WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty University’s Board of Governors on Wednesday announced its support of its President W. Franklin Evans, who joined two other local college presidents last month in a public stance against the city of Wheeling’s effort to bring another college to town.
The statement released Wednesday aligns WLU’s board with the boards from Wheeling University and West Virginia Northern Community College, which also issued public statements in support of their presidents following an explosive council meeting on March 16.
Wheeling city leaders, in their ongoing work to fill vacant buildings at the former Ohio Valley Medical Center — which the city acquired last year — entered into a memorandum of understanding Jan. 5 with Bluefield State College to establish a branch campus in Wheeling. As part of the non-binding agreement, Bluefield State hoped to open a new Engineering and Manufacturing Center in the Education and Administration Building on the former OVMC campus.
Officials from the three existing area colleges had initially expressed their dismay about the MOU privately to city leaders before Evans, Wheeling University President Ginny Favede and WVNCC President Daniel Mosser issued public statements against this effort to bring a competing college to the local market.
During the March 16 meeting of Wheeling City Council, the three college presidents addressed city leaders publicly. Favede and Evans yielded the bulk of their allotted three-minute time slots on the floor to Mosser, who launched what Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman and City Manager Robert Herron described as a personal and unsubstantiated attack against them.
In his speech, Mosser described the city’s deal with Bluefield State and its president — former WLU President Robin Capehart — as a “Friends and Family Plan,” alleging shady backdoor dealings to bring the MOU to fruition. Elliott, Thalman and Herron subsequently issued a statement demanding a public retraction from the college presidents, who since then have basically softened the tone yet have remained solid in their stance in opposition of the Bluefield State deal.
Rich Lucas, chairman of the WLU Board of Governors, on Wednesday said the board supports Evans and his position.
“As the chairman of the board of governors, I am expressing our full support of President Evans in his statements and actions during the past weeks made in response of the city of Wheeling’s MOU signed with Bluefield State College for the purpose of its expansion into downtown Wheeling,” Lucas said. “President Evans is acting in a manner that is prudent and in the best interest of West Liberty University, its students and its constituents.”
Lucas added that the board was grateful for the support of the greater Wheeling community over its 184-years of existence and plans to continue to provide a quality education and community outreach long into the future.
“At a time when higher education everywhere is recovering from the effects of a global pandemic that is unprecedented in our lifetime, President Evans is performing his duties in a careful, thoughtful manner,” Lucas said. “He appreciates the importance of ‘town and gown’ relations and is pleased to serve on the board of the RED (Regional Economic Development Authority) and the Ohio County Development Authority. The board of governors supports his efforts and is grateful for his leadership.”
On March 19, both David Artman, chairman of the WVNCC board of governors, and Maribeth Arlia, chairwoman of the Wheeling University board of trustees, issued statements supporting their presidents in the wake of the public tug-of-war over Bluefield State’s intention to come to Wheeling.
Bluefield officials have maintained that there is a need for hands-on, accredited engineering courses and training opportunities in the area that are currently not available. They have said Bluefield State hopes to work in collaboration with other local colleges to provide these services to the students and local employers who need them.
City leaders have asserted that their role in this situation is to fill space at OVMC with a viable tenant that can help make a positive economic impact in the community. They have stressed that it is not their position to create or prevent competition among educational institutions, noting that the state Higher Education Policy Commission and the W.Va. Council for Community and Technical College Education decide whether or not a college can enter a different market or offer classes where other institutions already exist.