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Frequently Asked Questions - Impact of Proposed MSU settlement on UC

There is a “proposed” settlement that has been accepted by representatives of Mountain State University (MSU), Mountain State’s insurance company, the students suing Mountain State, and the University of Charleston (UC).  The proposed settlement will soon be filed with a West Virginia state court for its “preliminary approval.”  If the settlement receives preliminary approval with the court, the terms of the settlement will be provided to the affected parties, a hearing will be scheduled, and all affected parties will be given an opportunity to be heard on the matter.  Final approval of the settlement would come at a later date, after this process has been completed. 

The University of Charleston endorses the proposed settlement and believes that it will ultimately be approved and implemented.  The responses to the Frequently Asked Questions below are based on this belief and the University will initiate the described actions with the assumption that the settlement will be approved and implemented.

SETTLEMENT BASICS 

What is the proposed legal settlement?

In order to resolve numerous lawsuits against Mountain State University (“MSU”) by former MSU students without further protracted litigation, MSU has agreed to a settlement of these lawsuits and related matters.  The Regional Campuses of the University of Charleston (“UC”) in Beckley and Martinsburg have been located on real estate owned by MSU and leased to UC.  In order to fund the settlement, MSU has agreed to sell its real estate and the majority of the contents of the buildings and related equipment to provide settlement funds for the plaintiffs.  UC understands the need for the settlement and supports the settlement.  As a consequence, UC must restructure its academic program offerings and will not be able to remain on this real estate and operate these Regional Campuses beyond the 2014-15 academic year.

What does the settlement really mean for the University of Charleston? 

The proposed settlement will have no impact on program offerings in Charleston and online, and there will be few changes for the 2014-15 academic year in regional programs.  UC will continue all but its culinary arts programs at the current University of Charleston-Beckley campus.  In Martinsburg, UC will offer selected programs at National Guard facilities.  When the proposed settlement receives “preliminary approval,” UC will no longer have the ability to use its Martinsburg site, thus necessitating the move of programs to National Guard facilities.  After the 2014-15 academic year, UC will no longer have the ability to use the facilities it is leasing from MSU in Beckley.

Long term, UC intends to continue offering academic programs in Beckley.  During the 2014-15 academic year, UC will work with faculty, students, community representatives, and accreditors to determine the number, format, and locations of the programs to be offered in the Beckley area.  For further information see “Impact on Students” section of the FAQs.

As part of the settlement, UC is giving up its lease of facilities in Martinsburg and Beckley and as UC has provided a number of services to MSU and to Beckley, including

  • “teaching out” MSU’s students following the loss of accreditation in 2012;
  • operating and maintaining MSU’s facilities since January 1, 2013;
  • assuming contracts and leases formerly held by MSU;
  • being the permanent holder of MSU’s student records; and
  • providing educational programs for students in a region that MSU, as a non-profit institution, was previously providing;

The settlement agreement provides UC upon preliminary approval by the court with a payment of $750,000 and specified educational equipment that will allow UC to continue teaching selected programs in Beckley.  UC will also receive some additional funds when the settlement receives final approval from the court and otherwise becomes final and binding on all of the parties. 

Why was a settlement necessary?  

Former MSU students who felt they were seriously harmed by MSU’s handling of the loss of its nursing program accreditation and/or MSU’s closure sued MSU.  A settlement was sought to provide financial payments to the students, to resolve the many cases that existed and to reduce the time and the cost of the extended litigation that would have occurred without a settlement.

Why was the University of Charleston involved in the negotiations? 

UC has been leasing buildings, land and equipment owned by MSU so it could offer UC’s programs to students who had been at MSU, make its educational programs more accessible to students in the Martinsburg and Beckley areas and provide an economic boost to those areas. Those facilities, leased to UC by MSU, are assets that MSU has agreed to use to help settle its lawsuits. No settlement was possible without resolving the status of these assets. 

How did the settlement come about?

There have been many days of negotiation and mediation over an 11-month period between representatives of former Mountain State students, Mountain State University Mountain State’s insurance company and UC. In many of those days of negotiation and mediation, the court also was involved and was very instrumental in bringing all of the parties together to resolve many difficult issues.

LEGAL ISSUES

Why did UC believe it could lease MSU’s facilities for a longer period of time?

MSU and UC entered into a master agreement and a long-term lease intended to promote the parties’ mutual goals of promoting a successful launch of UC’s regional campuses in Beckley and Martinsburg and UC’s distance learning operations.

Why doesn’t UC go to court to protect its interests?

UC participated in the negotiation and mediation of this complicated matter to protect its interests.  UC could have litigated its rights and responsibilities under the “master agreement” and leases with MSU, but it chose to agree to this settlement because:

  • UC recognizes the plight of former MSU students who are seeking compensation from MSU.
  • Additional litigation would prolong the resolution of UC’s interests and the cases of former MSU students for years.
  • The cloud of lawsuits would make it difficult for UC to recruit students to its regional programs
  • At the end of any litigation of this nature, there is always a chance a judge or a jury would decide against UC or reach a decision that would prove far more problematic for UC than the negotiated settlement reached by the parties with the assistance of the court.
  • The settlement provides UC with partial compensation for the services it has provided to MSU.
  • UC wanted to insulate itself from future lawsuits from former MSU students.
  • The settlement allows UC, in an orderly manner, to continue offering academic programs in Beckley, in Martinsburg, and online.

 

PROCESS ISSUES 

How long has UC known about this?   

The final and very important elements of the settlement did not fall into place until August 1, 2014.  Although mediation efforts began in August 2013, the conversations did not become focused until March, 2014.

Why didn’t UC announce this situation earlier? 

There was no settlement earlier.  The negotiation and mediation of these issues were a legal, court-directed process that included a binding, confidentiality obligation on the parties. UC was not allowed to disclose the progress of the negotiations. Any speculation about what might happen would only have furthered the confusion and hurt of former MSU students and employees and would have made it even more difficult for the parties and the court to resolve all of the competing claims and interests.

IMPACT ON STUDENTS 

How will this settlement impact students and various programs? 

The immediate impact of this settlement on current UC regional students is minimal.  Fewer than 20 students are affected by the closure of the culinary arts programs that was previously announced and by the closure of the Martinsburg Viking Way site.  All other students will continue their studies at the current UC-Beckley location or at National Guard facilities in Martinsburg. 

Future decisions about which programs will be offered in Beckley and at what location will be announced as soon as decisions are made.  UC will work with faculty, students, community representatives, and accreditors in making these decisions.    The changes will occur before the 2015-16 academic year.  It is UC’s intention to continue offering the following programs in Beckley even after the 2014-15 academic year:  Associate Degree of Nursing, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Education, Leadership, Occupational Therapy Assistant, Radiologic Technology and Social Work.  Decisions about programs in accounting, biology, business administration, and psychology will be announced as soon as they are made.  The University of Charleston’s commitment is to work with each Beckley and Martinsburg student individually to clarify his/her path to graduation.  Online students will not be affected by the settlement.

Will UC provide on-campus housing for students in Beckley? 

Yes.  UC plans to house residential students in University Hall during the 2014-15 academic year.  Future housing options will be announced as soon as plans are in place.

How do students get more information about the impacts of the settlement? 

Email communications will be sent to all UC students by August 15, 2014, with additional information including contact information of people who can provide further guidance.  The emails will be sent to the UC email addresses of students.  As long-term decisions are made about programs, students will be kept informed by faculty members, academic administrators, and email communications.

IMPACT ON FACULTY AND STAFF 

How many employees are in Beckley and Martinsburg? 

Twenty months ago, UC hired 90 full-time employees who had lost their jobs with the closure of Mountain State University. 

How many jobs will be lost as a result of the settlement? 

The immediate impact of the settlement is the loss of two positions in Martinsburg and one in Beckley.  Further decisions about positions will be made according to the need for faculty, administrative, and staff support for operations in Beckley, Charleston, and Martinsburg; the contractual commitments made to faculty members for 2014-15; the University policies governing administrative and staff appointments; and the requirements of Federal and State laws.

UC will make every effort to work with and assist each regional employee whose position will be affected by these decisions.

How do faculty and staff get more information about the impact of the settlement and when decisions will be made? 

Faculty and staff members will receive information about their employment from their department directors as soon as decisions are made.

IMPACT ON THE UNIVERSITY 

Is UC pulling out of Beckley?  

No.  UC is as committed today to serving Beckley and students from Southern West Virginia as it was when it began offering classes in Beckley in January 2013. The long-term loss of the MSU facilities will require the University to offer programs and classes in different ways. UC will offer on-campus classes in Beckley; hybrid classes in Beckley; weekend college classes in Beckley and Charleston; online classes; and on-campus classes in Charleston. The University will change its location in Beckley for the 2015-16 academic year and it will change some of its delivery methods, but it is not pulling out of Beckley.

Is UC pulling out of Martinsburg? 

No. Most of UC’s students in Martinsburg are members of the National Guard. The university will continue to serve those students by offering classes at the National Guard facilities in Martinsburg.

How does this settlement change UC’s regional growth plans? 

The long-term loss of MSU’s facilities has not changed UC’s online operation or UC’s commitment to serve students from the Eastern Panhandle and Southern West Virginia through a variety of learning options.  It has caused UC to discontinue the culinary arts programs in Beckley and to transition other programs to new locations and perhaps in some cases to new teaching formats.

Has UC been successful in its regional development? 

UC has been successful in developing its regional programs. When UC began offering regional classes in January 2013, only 400 MSU students remained from the ”teach out.”   After graduating 335 regional students, the Fall 2013 regional enrollment grew to 520 students. Recruitment for the upcoming Fall 2014 term is running ahead of last year.

What have been the outcomes of the regional expansion? 

UC has already graduated 416 former MSU students who, without UC, would not have had a clear path to complete their degrees. UC provided employment to 90 former MSU faculty and staff members and added ten new programs.  UC enrollment grew by more than 550 students, and that growth will continue. The University has expanded its relationships with and connections to civic leaders in Beckley and Martinsburg, Beckley College alumni, New River Community College, Blue Ridge Community College, regional high school leaders and counselors and many other organizations and individuals. These stronger relationships will be mutually beneficial for years to come.

In the Spring of 2012, UC completed a strategic planning process which determined that UC should expand its enrollment toward 2,500 students, add new academic programs, move into online education, gain economic efficiencies through the better use of technology, reduce per student operational costs, and focus on the recruitment of West Virginia students.  The regional expansion into Beckley, Martinsburg, and online education has helped UC to move more quickly toward achieving each of these goals.

How many students does UC have now? 

UC’s Spring 2014, enrollment was 1,885, including 564 regional students.  UC is currently projecting an enrollment of more than 2,000 for Fall 2014.

What will happen to UC’s online programs and classes? 

UC’s online programs and classes will continue to grow. UC had no serious online presence before January 2013.

Will UC consider buying the Beckley campus? 

UC does not have the financial resources to buy the Beckley campus.  UC will, however, pursue all possible options for an appropriate site to meet the educational needs of students at UC-Beckley after the 2014-15 academic year.

If UC had it to do over again, would it seek to develop a regional presence? 

Definitely. UC was happy to answer the plight of MSU students who had no avenue for earning their degrees and provide jobs for some of those who lost their employment with MSU.  In addition, the University developed ten new academic programs it would not have had, acquired the equipment and educational materials to support those programs, created an online presence that it did not have, dramatically expanded its presence across West Virginia and added more than 550 students to its overall enrollment.  Though unexpected, the physical consolidation of the University caused by the settlement will further strengthen UC while allowing the regional expansion of UC’s educational services to continue.

 

Office of Communications

Carrie Stollings
Public Relations Specialist
304-357-4719
carriestollings@ucwv.edu 

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