Earlier this year, I mentioned the situation at West Virginia University regarding an MBA awarded to Heather Bresch, the COO of Mylan and daughter of West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, which had caused quite a bit of controversy.  Following an inquiry on October 11, 2007 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to WVU in order to verify Bresch’s credentials after she was named COO, WVU was unable to prove that she had satisfied the degree requirements.  A few days later, WVU reversed itself and confirmed that Bresch had completed all the requirements for an MBA.  In January 2008, Provost Gerald Lang appointed a five-member panel in order to determine whether Bresch appropriately received the degree. 

    In yesterday’s Post-Gazette, Patricia Sabatini and Len Boselovic, whose December 21, 2007 story brought the issue to the public’s attention, reported that the panel has concluded unanimously that Bresch did not earn her MBA and that WVU administrators “acted improperly” in granting her the degree retroactively in October. 

    Last week, the Post Gazette filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against WVU in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, West Virginia in order to obtain WVU’s compliance with the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act.  The Post-Gazette alleges that:

 [WVU] has repeatedly failed to respond timely to a series of FOIA requests submitted to it by the plaintiff, has withheld public records that are responsive to the Post-Gazette’s requests and that are not privileged or otherwise exempted from disclosure, has failed to permit inspection of responsive documents by knowingly and intentionally misapplying statutory exemptions, and has otherwise failed to comply with its obligations under the Act and the governing law.

    According to the complaint, the Post-Gazette has submitted three series of FOIA requests to WVU for:

  • “copies of all e-mails sent or received by [WVU] President [Michael] Garrison, Provost Lang, and [College of Business and Economics] Dean [R. Stephen] Sears that relate in any way to the subject of whether Bresch fulfilled the requirements for an MBA”;
  •  “copies of all records relating to the subject of whether Bresch fulfilled the requirements for an MBA. This request identified a non-exhaustive number of individuals whose records fall within the request”; and
  • “copies of all records relating to the use of land-line and cell-phone telephones by President Garrison and Chief of Staff Craig Walker for the month of October 2007, and copies of Garrison’s and Walker’s appointment books from October 2007 through the date of the request.”

    The problem for WVU is the Post-Gazette has been reporting on this story since last fall, and has accumulated an enormous amount of information from its sources, many of whom have not been identified (such as whoever leaked the panel’s report yesterday), which means that the Post-Gazette may not know what information is being withheld, but it knows that someone is holding out.  

    In Sunday’s Post-Gazette, Sabatini and Boselovic reported that Bresch has advised WVU that, pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, she will not consent to the public disclosure of the panel’s report.  Although there is some dispute as to whether FERPA even applies to this situation, it appears that disclosure of the report to WVU’s Faculty Senate would not violate FERPA.