By TERESA C. TORISEVA

WHEELING -- West Virginia is and always has been my home. West Virginia University is my University, and where I proudly earned my law degree.

I am deeply saddened and troubled that WVU is allowing its reputation to be tarnished by what is perceived to be the granting of a degree to the Governor's daughter that may not have been actually earned.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a story Dec. 21 contending university officials rewrote records showing Joe Manchin's daughter Heather Bresch, completed only 26 of the required 48 credit hours needed to obtain her master's degree in business administration from WVU in 1998. WVU then didn't grant the degree until this past October, after Post-Gazette reporters began asking about it when trying to verify Ms. Bresch's credentials after her appointment as Chief Operating Officer of Mylan Pharmaceuticals.

University officials and Bresch have denied the claims that the degree was not actually earned. Both say the degree was not granted earlier because of a series of clerical errors, but neither has provided documents, such as Bresch's transcripts, to prove it.

Now the University, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, has named a three-member panel. WVU Provost Gerald Lang stated the panel would conduct an independent investigation into the disputed degree. All three members of the panel are connected to the University or the University system.

There is only one way to protect the academic integrity of our University. There must be a completely independent panel appointed to investigate and make recommendations to the University as to what, if anything, went wrong, and how to correct any misdeeds.

I applaud Bruce Flack for resigning from the existing three-member panel after the faculty senate vote called for outside investigators. The faculty worried that Flack, as a staff member on a state agency, was controlled by the Manchin administration.

However, two insiders remain on the committee. The perception is that the panel still lacks objectivity because they too might be controlled or influenced by the Manchin administration.

My challenge to the academic officials of WVU is to appoint a legitimate, independent panel to investigate whether the MBA granted to Heather Bresch was done so properly, and in accordance with appropriate academic standards. Appoint neutral people who cannot be influenced by state politics. Find a former FBI agent, a former or current dean of a business college from somewhere outside the state, and a former United States attorney.

WVU belongs to all of us. If this investigation is not handled properly, the academic integrity of our University will be forever tarnished.

We cannot let the perception stand that our University might grant a fraudulent degree. If the degree was legitimately granted, prove it with an objective process. If they are unwilling to let the outside world take a peek at what goes on at WVU, it only begs one question: what are they hiding?

Toriseva is a Wheeling attorney.

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