Mountain State University officials want accreditation restored - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Mountain State University officials want accreditation restored

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Officials with the now-defunct Mountain State University have gone to court to try and force the Higher Learning Commission to restore the school's accreditation.

HLC stripped Mountain State of its accreditation in June 2012, claiming an “unprecedented” lack of compliance by MSU. Without accreditation the school was ineligible for state and federal funding, including student aid, and was forced to close its doors six months later.

The suit, filed Monday, May 20, in U.S. District Court in Beckley, claims the HLC failed to adhere to its own policies and procedures and alleges the agency's actions were “grossly negligent... arbitrary and capricious...not supported by substantial evidence, and...an abuse of discretion – all of which caused MSU to suffer catastrophic and irreparable harm.”

“MSU's responses to the HLC, the on-site visit, the numerous changes that MSU made, and the evidence addressed at the hearing on the HLC's decision to withdraw accreditation, amply demonstrated that MSU was making significant progress and, in fact, had corrected a number of the problems noted by the HLC,” the complaint stated. “The HLC, however, repeatedly cited the fact that there was insufficient time to evaluate the effectiveness of MSU's corrective steps. The HLC was aware when it placed MSU on show cause status of the time required to implement corrective measures. The HLC's repeated statements regarding insufficient time evidence the fact that the show cause process was not sincerely intended to be an opportunity to correct issues. Rather, the outcome of withdrawal was a foregone conclusion.”

A spokesman for the HLC declined comment, saying, “We have not yet seen the lawsuit, and therefore cannot comment in the meantime.”

The suit, however, suggests HLC was overly concerned with the nursing's program's loss of accreditation from the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission and West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses. School officials say that loss of program accreditation prompted them to terminate the nursing program in August 2012, thus its shortcomings “had become moot and should not have been considered in determining whether MSU could meet the HLC's accreditation criterion in the future.”

The complaint also said HLC claimed a lack of leadership, failure to collaborate and communicate with students and staff, and the lack of a “shared governance process” by administrators as grounds for revoking the school's accreditation, even though MSU had taken steps to correct those deficiencies, including terminating longtime MSU President Charles Polk.

The school also gave faculty members three-year contracts, reduced teaching workloads, developed new mission statements, launched a comprehensive staffing plan and initiated a program review process that included analysis of recruitment and retention, it said.

“The HLC's actions resulted in an unmerited loss of accreditation, and MSU suffered irreparable harm and damage as a result,” the suit stated.

MSU is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and court costs for “catastrophic loss and irreparable harm” because it could no longer offer degree programs.

Steptoe & Johnson's John R. Merinar Jr., Jeffrey M. Cropp and Mario Bordogna filed the complaint.