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Dispute arises over authority in college's relocation

September 12, 2000

Dispute arises over authority in college's relocation



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - As Shepherd College finishes a detailed plan to move its community and technical college here, state officials disagree about who must approve the move.

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"We're negotiating a lease right now, which we hope to present to the (state) Interim Governing Board at their meeting Sept. 27," said College President David Dunlop. He would not name the people with whom officials are negotiating. But he did say the college still favors moving to the abandoned downtown Blue Ridge Outlet Center.

Tanger Outlet Center near I-81 and King Street is the other site under consideration.

The college announced in July it wants to move to Blue Ridge. But legislators and others have insisted the college go through a detailed process of evaluating all the sites and determining with specific costs.

"It has taken a tremendous amount of staff time to put this together," Dunlop said. Despite the work, he said the results should answer all the questions about the project, providing it with the justification to move forward.

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"I'm never against doing everything to make sure we've got the best information," he said. "I would rather cover more bases than to overlook some problem inadvertently and discover it later on."

Dunlop said the college would stay out of a dispute between Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, some House leaders and the newly created Higher Education Policy Commission.

Doyle believes the Higher Education Policy Commission has the responsibility for setting overall policy for the state's college and university system, but no authority to approve or veto projects like Shepherd's proposed move. That resides with the Interim Governing Board that handles day-to-day governing issues, he said.

He and leaders of the House, including House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, sent a letter to the commission Chairman John Hoblitzell in late August, saying a new state law and existing law give Shepherd the right to do what it wants, needing approval only from the Interim Governing Board.

"They have no business being involved in this," Doyle said of the commissioners during an interview.

An Aug. 7 letter signed by Hoblitzell and Cathy Armstrong, chairwoman of the Interim Governing Board, asked the college to provide detailed information about its plan. They raised the possibility that other colleges might better provide community and technical education.

That drew the particular concern of Doyle and other letter writers. But Hoblitzell said the question is legitimate. And since the college wants $2.6 million in state money over five years for its new community college, the commission has authority to approve or disapprove the request, he said. The commission must seek the overall state good, he said.

"Bringing home the bacon in tough election years is how they get elected," said Hoblitzell, a former lawmaker, of legislators. "So we're going to bump heads occasionally with local officials and local legislative representatives." Doyle and most other area lawmakers are up for election this year.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, who is not, said the commission has a duty to approve or disapprove the move.

"I know their job is to set policy, but I don't know how you separate policy from governing," he said. "The Legislature sets policy and administrators carry it out. It's the same with this."

"I think they do have the authority," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Lloyd Jackson, D-Lincoln. "I think the issue of whether colleges should establish branch campuses is something they should consider."

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