June 3, 2008
COMMENTARY: A Level Playing Field at West Virginia University; Garrison Must Resign
Editor's Note: The following remarks of Mark Brazaitis, associate professor of English/Director of Creative Writing at WVU/spokesperson for Mountaineers for Integrity and Responsibility (MIR) www.wvumir.org, were delivered Monday, June 2, 1 p.m. at Mountainlair "Green" in Morgantown
West Virginia University is supposed to be a level playing field. Once you are admitted, you are supposed to have the same opportunity as anyone else to earn a degree.
You're expected to work hard, study long hours, write papers – in short, do the challenging but enriching work of a college student. And you are judged, and rewarded, solely on the quality of your work.
It doesn't matter – it shouldn't matter – if you are the son or daughter of a coal miner or the son or daughter – okay, let's say the daughter – of the West Virginia governor. You have – or you should have -- the same opportunity to excel – or fail.
But when a president of West Virginia University answers a phone call from an old friend, a friend who happens to be the executive of the company for whom he used to lobby, a friend who happens to be the governor's daughter, and some time later—some short time later—she is in possession of a degree she didn't earn, he has desecrated and defamed this foundation upon which West Virginia University stands.
He has disgraced the students who acquire their degrees the old-fashioned way: by actually earning them. He has humiliated the professors who rightfully view their contract with students as sacred. He has made a laughing stock of West Virginia University, which West Virginians across the state, and WVU graduates across the country, hold sacred.
Mike Garrison needs to resigns. He needs to resign now.
Mike Garrison says he treated Heather Bresch the same as he would any other student. Raise your hand if you think that if you had called Mike Garrison about an academic issue, he would have 1) taken your call at all; 2) sent his chief of staff and his top legal adviser into meetings with academic officials to resolve the issue; and 3) convened at least one meeting with his lieutenants so he could be updated on the situation.
Oh – and there are the multiple phone calls Garrison's chief of staff made to Heather Bresch during this catastrophe. And there are the evocative words the investigative panel used to describe the influence Garrison's henchmen had on the decision: "palpable pressure."
Think about those words: palpable pressure. That's pressure you can feel; that's pressure that chills you; that's pressure that makes you sweat.
Do you think if you had an academic issue you wanted resolved, Mike Garrison's posse would put "palpable pressure" on the issue?
Garrison's latest, desperate response to the situation is to point to other problems in the eMBA program. Seventy eMBA degrees, if one can believe Garrison, are suspect. Garrison accomplished this through an audit.
Yes, Mike Garrison has gotten this desperate. His answer to the Bresch scandal is to create his own version of the IRS.
Where do Garrison's audits stop? The WVU community has resoundingly rejected Garrison's latest scheme. So…does he now begin to do random audits around campus, checking to see whether you earned the grades you know you did? How far will he go? Will he and his magnifying glass-wielding bureaucrats ask to see each of your essays, your quizzes – you know, just to make sure?
We don't need an audit. We need honest people doing an honest job. We need honest people keeping the playing field level.
We don't need favoritism, cronyism, back scratching. We don't need Palpable Pressure.
If Mike Garrison doesn't resign before Friday, the Board of Governors, which so far has been blind to the cries of outrage from the WVU community and the devastation Garrison's actions have caused, needs to summon its better angels and show him the door.
Mike Garrison needs to resign. He needs to resign now.
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