Governor’s daughter seeks answer on revoked degree

By VICKI SMITH, Associated Press Writer Vicki Smith, Associated Press WriterFri Feb 6, 4:25 pm ET

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The woman at the center of a scandal that forced West Virginia University’s president to resign last year demanded an explanation Friday why her master’s degree was revoked but 288 other apparently deficient degrees will be allowed to stand.

In a letter to the university’s Board of Governors, obtained by The Associated Press, Heather Bresch said she has “no choice but to revisit my options,” given recent revelations in a report on degree-granting and record-keeping practices at the university between 1997 and 2008.

Bresch said she is not suggesting the other degrees be rescinded.

“Rather, I am asking for a detailed explanation of what differentiates my situation from them,” wrote the daughter of Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin and executive of Pennsylvania-based generic drug maker Mylan Inc. Bresch has repeatedly insisted she earned her degree, but did not say in the letter whether she wants it restored.

Board Chairwoman Carolyn Long said the letter will be referred to the provost’s office and declined to comment further.

Jason Parsons, the board’s student representative, said, “I think there are a lot of questions that people have, and those questions are legitimate and should be answered.”

WVU requested the review by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers after Bresch was retroactively awarded an executive master’s of business administration in October 2007 that investigators later concluded she had not earned.

The investigators found administrators and academic officers in the College of Business and Economics added missing courses and grades to her transcript. Bresch was 12 credit hours short of the required 48.

Bresch has repeatedly insisted she substituted work experience for classroom work in her final semester with the blessing of then-program director Paul Speaker — an assertion Speaker has denied. Her letter also includes a copy of an internal business school record, showing she graduated in 1999 with a 3.0 grade-point average.

The association’s report found 27 eMBA degrees like Bresch’s were awarded despite apparent credit-hour deficiencies or other records discrepancies. So were 261 undergraduate degrees.

But Interim President Peter Magrath said Monday that while the 261 will be further examined, all 288 degrees will stand. While Bresch’s degree was not awarded until years after she left the program, the others were awarded in a timely way, he said.

The AACRAO report also suggests WVU might have a difficult time proving “just cause” for revoking the degrees, such as fraud, deceit or error by the student.

Graduates, however, might have grounds to sue for breach of contract if their degrees are revoked, attorney Saundra Schuster wrote.

The report shows other eMBA graduates were allowed to substitute work experience for credit hours, and Bresch said she was shocked that AACRAO did not interview Speaker, who ran the eMBA program for eight of the 10 years in question. She also contends the new report undermines a key conclusion of the panel that investigated her situation.

The panel said institutional failures surrounding her degree were “unique,” but she says the AACRAO report shows larger systemic problems with record keeping that continue to exist.

David C. Hardesty was president at WVU for all but the last year of the AACRAO review. He was replaced in the fall of 2007 by politically connected attorney Mike Garrison, whose appointment had been widely criticized by faculty, many of whom had supported another candidate.

Garrison and Bresch are longtime friends, and her boss is a benefactor of both the governor and WVU.

The panel investigating the Bresch matter concluded that while neither she nor Garrison did anything wrong, there was “palpable pressure” from the administration to accommodate Bresch.

Garrison ultimately resigned, while others involved in the matter were demoted.


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