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Marshall faculty, students decry fund switch

By From staff and wire reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Faculty and students at Marshall University are in an uproar over the administration's decision to move funds from department accounts into a central account controlled by the administration.

A little after 9 a.m. Tuesday, faculty members received an email from the administration, telling them nearly all the money from department accounts had been moved into a central holding account overnight.

They had been discussing the university's budget for months, but this was the first time faculty had heard about this step and they learned of it after the fact.

The move affected a little more than $10 million.

President Stephen Kopp said the administration decided to sweep the money into a single account so it could be analyzed by a chief financial officer.

Faculty members immediately cried foul, and Kopp has since apologized.

"In retrospect, it was not the right approach and I regret that," Kopp told the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington.

"People were insulted with the technique . . . It was culturally insensitive to our university community."

But the administration has defended the act itself, saying Marshall's current finance model is not suitable for an institution of its size, especially when it's facing a $5 million cut in state funding.

On Thursday, in a crowded meeting with a group of 30 student protesters outside, Marshall's Board of Governors tabled Kopp's proposal to overhaul budget policies.

Professor Dallas Brozik said the College of Business has taken a vote of no-confidence against Kopp and Provost Gayle Ormiston.

The Faculty Senate scheduled an emergency meeting for today to discuss the proposal and to discuss the business school's no-confidence vote. If the Faculty Senate chooses to take a similar vote, it could occur next week.

A vote of no confidence is non-binding, but professor Pamela Mulder said it has symbolic power.

"It's a step we are taking because we need to make some very strong statements at this point," she said. "We don't mind having leadership, but we need leadership we can trust and trusts us."

Students have been drawn into the controversy over concerns about the status of the fees they're paying the school. Journalism students don't want their department fees to pay for a chemistry student's beakers, and vice versa.

"We know there's some serious considerations to make as far as the budget going forward," said Chris Hoge, the junior who organized Thursday's protest at the board meeting. "But I don't think it should be the decision of one man or one office."

Marshall Chief of Staff Matt Turner said that's not the way the funding works: The funds have been swept into a central holding account, but they're still earmarked for use by the departments they came from.

"This process just allows us to do better planning," he said. The idea is that better planning results in saved money.

"It could enable us to live a little bit closer to the margins going forward."

Some faculty members aren't buying it.

Brozik said as they left Thursday's board meeting, even after Kopp apologized, "everybody was shaking their heads."

"I'm a professor of finance," he said. "And the one thing I've learned is if you want to surprise people, all you have to do is take their money from them."

The administration says the funds are still available to the departments.

Now, when a faculty member needs money from the affected accounts, department heads have to submit a one-page form to the central office. They released a copy of that form this week: it requires a justification and several signatures, but Turner said the administration has promised faculty a "quick turnaround." 


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