Two college professors are suing West Virginia University and its former general counsel for allegedly violating their civil rights during a scandal over a degree awarded to the former governor’s daughter.
In a complaint filed on Dec. 3 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, the two professors allege that the school, its general counsel, one of its law professors and others “sabotaged” their reputations and violated due process during an academic misconduct proceeding. The proceeding stemmed from their roles in retroactively granting an executive master of business administration degree in 2007 to Heather Bresch, daughter of former Gov. Joe Manchin.
Plaintiffs Cyril Logar, still a faculty member, and Stephen Sears, who resigned from the school in 2008, want to block the school’s misconduct action against them, which they said is ongoing. They also seek compensatory damages.
“Defendants knowingly and intentionally sabotaged plaintiffs’ reputations,” their lawsuit claims.
A spokesman for the university declined to comment, stating that school officials were aware of the lawsuit but had not seen it.
According to the complaint, school administrators in 2007 asked Logar, former associate dean of the WVU College of Business and Economics, and Sears, former dean of the same college, to investigate the degree awarded to “Student A” after questions from news reporters arose about its legitimacy. Logar and Sears claim they determined that the student had not completed all coursework for the degree but that the school decided to retroactively grant it to her anyway. They assert that they followed the advice of the general counsel in saying that she had earned the degree.
Following news coverage that called into question the school’s determination, an independent panel found in 2008 that Bresch did not fulfill requirements for the degree. The school launched misconduct proceedings against the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs assert that they became the subject of an academic misconduct proceeding despite having followed the general counsel’s advice. They claim that the proceeding is not fair and impartial and denies them due process.
In support of their complaint, the plaintiffs note that former WVU Provost Gerald Lang last year won a writ of prohibition motion in state court blocking the school from going forward with a misconduct action against him. The court found that the school had a conflict of interest deprived him of due process.
Among the defendants are WVU former general counsel Mary Brandt; Deputy General Counsel Beverly Kerr; Professor of Law and Technology Marjorie McDiarmid, University President James Clements and other past and current university administrators.
Representing Logar is Robert Ridge, a partner at Pittsburgh’s Thorp Reed & Armstrong. Representing Sears is Thomas Clare, a partner in the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis.
Leigh Jones can be contacted at email@example.com.