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Marshall professors seek injunction against university

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall University faculty and one of the state's largest teachers unions are asking a court to force university president Stephen Kopp to hand over financial information. The West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and two MU professors are seeking an injunction in Cabell Circuit Court because the university wanted nearly $55,000 to produce the requested information about the university budget.

The university is not trying to stonewall anyone, but the request was massive and would require lots of time and people, said Matt Turner, Marshall chief of staff.

"There's no attempt to hide anything," Turner said Thursday.

This comes weeks after Kopp pledged more transparency following a vote of no confidence in his leadership by Marshall's faculty.

The university community has been in an uproar over the university's finances since April, when the administration suddenly swept money from some departmental accounts - nearly $10 million - into a holding account controlled by the central office.

That act, and the way it was carried out - overnight, without warning to faculty or the affected departments - prompted a swift outcry from the faculty, quickly followed by other segments of the university community.

Kopp apologized, but it did little to assuage faculty members, whose no-confidence vote carried by a 2:1 ratio last month.

However, the Marshall Board of Governor then reiterated its support for Kopp, who promised to be more open with the university's finances. The board put off voting on Kopp's budget plan until they could get input from other sectors of the university, and Kopp created a budget work group in the name of inclusiveness.

But faculty members Dallas Brozik and Jim Sottile, who were not selected to be part of that group despite efforts to join, wanted to review the university's finances on their own.

"We are facing here at Marshall a fairly severe budget situation," Brozik, a finance professor, said Thursday.

On May 3, Brozik wrote to Kopp to ask for detailed budget information for the last five years. He wanted to know how much money was given to departments, the administration and the athletic program.

University associate general counsel Jendonnae Houdyschell called his request too vague. Saying she was acting "in the spirit of cooperation," she provided a summary of the adopted budget from 2009 to 2013 for 12 departments.

The half pages of figures per department were a far cry from the detailed information Brozik and Sottile sought.

"We just want to see where the money is going," Brozik said. "Could you run your household without seeing where your money is going? And then if the person with the checkbook refused to show it to you, what are you going to think?"

They responded by submitting new requests.

On May 8, Brozik and Sottile submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for "expenditures by the department/division level for all the colleges, the administration, and the athletic department for the last five years."

In a May 17 response, Houdyschell said it would cost them an estimated $54,296 each to receive the information. She said it would take the university three months to compile the information.

The bulk of that cost, $45,000, would be for printing the 300,000 pages Houdyschell estimated would be included. The fees also would include more than $6,000 for the 135.5 hours of estimated time it would take for "redaction review" and "redaction supervision" of the documents, at a cost of $46 an hour.

An additional $1,500 would be charged for the 110 hours of actual redacting of information at $14 an hour.

Because the requests were not made with "reasonably specificity" as required under state FOIA laws, Houdyschell said the university would not start to work on the request until it received a check. Brozik and Sottile submitted revised FOIA requests on May 21. Brozik asked for "any and all Marshall University budget information, including the athletic program, for the last three years."

Sottile asked for the sum of all expenditures for the last five years and records of any vendor expenditure for $10,000 or more. He requested that information for every college department or division, the administration and the athletic department.

Brozik's request was not reasonably specific and would cost an estimated $32,150, Houdyschell said in a response delivered May 29. Most of the costs again would be associated with printing the 180,000 pages she estimates would be included.

Marshall doesn't have a document that shows the information in the format Sottile requested, so his request was also denied. Houdyschell said vendor payments are available on the state auditor's website.

Turner said he did not know about the plans for a lawsuit until contacted Thursday by the Daily Mail. He said university officials have met with the professors and given them some information. The requests are massive and would require a great deal of work to compile, he said.

Now Brozik and Sottile have turned to the AFT for help. The AFT represents higher education employees as well as those in public elementary and secondary education. Christine Campbell, state AFT president, said Kopp and the university are giving the professors the runaround rather than being transparent as promised.

"It's public information and we'd like to see it. If you can't give us the information, then what are you hiding?" Campbell said.

Brozik said he and Sottile would be satisfied if the university fulfilled their pared-down request for detailed budget information for the last three years.

"There's no transparency," Brozik said. "If (Kopp) were being transparent, all he would do is say, "Hey, here, take a look at the books." He wouldn't be hiding behind technicalities."

Turner said the university wants to work with the professors or anyone else curious about Marshall finances. The FOIA wasn't unreasonable, he said, but he called it "a bit of a distraction."

In April, a Kanawha circuit judge ruled the city of Nitro couldn't charge for the time it took employees to research information sought in a FOIA request.

"The statute does not contain any further grant of authority to public bodies to charge other fees, i.e., for searching for, retrieving or compiling public records," Judge Charles King wrote in the ruling.

Campbell said the injunction request would be filed today.

Turner said the budget work group has devoted countless hours to the creation of the new budget and will present it to the board of governors at a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.


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