WVU degree challenge was too late, judge rules

By Steve Korris and Chris Dickerson | Sep 22, 2011


CLARKSBURG – Former leaders of West Virginia University's business school waited too long to challenge an investigation into a degree the school awarded to Sen. Joe Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp ruled.

On Sept. 15, he found that a two-year statute of limitations ran out on a suit that former dean Stephen Sears and former associate dean Cyril Logar filed last Dec. 3.

They claimed conflicts of interest tainted the investigation, resulting in damage to their reputations and loss of privileges and benefits.

Stamp rejected their argument that the statute started running on Dec. 3, 2008, when a hearing panel advised them they would face misconduct charges.

He decided it started running when they received a report that a screening subcommittee released in July 2008.

He wrote that they "had knowledge of every alleged discriminatory act alleged in the complaint at the time they received the screening subcommittee report."

He wrote, "The actual bringing of academic misconduct charges is merely an effect or consequence of the alleged conflict of interest and alleged tainted investigation."

The scandal broke in 2007, when news organizations reported that the business school awarded Bresch a master's degree she hadn't earned.

At the time, Manchin occupied the governor's office.

Sears and Logar investigated and concluded Bresch hadn't earned the degree.

Sears would later allege that at the direction of Alex Macia, general counsel to the university, he advised a media outlet that she earned it.

In May 2008, university president Michael Garrison asked academic integrity officer Marjorie McDiarmid to investigate the degree.

In June 2008, Garrison resigned.

In July 2008, the subcommittee implicated Sears and Logar while finding no evidence that Macia or Garrison knew about falsification of grades or fabrication of records.

McDiarmid picked a hearing panel, which filed misconduct charges that December.

Former provost Gerald Lang, also facing misconduct charges, stopped the investigation with an injunction from Monongalia Circuit Judge Susan Tucker.

She vacated the injunction this July, after the university agreed not to investigate Lang.

Stamp's action opens the way for the university to resume the investigation.

Wheeling attorney Bob Fitzsimmons, who is counsel for Garrison, opted not to speak about the ruling.

"We are pleased with the decision, but since there are still collateral matters pending, I would not be appropriate to further comment," he said.

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