Former professor says Mountain State fired her for talking about accreditation issues

By Kyla Asbury | Jul 30, 2012

CHARLESTON -- A former professor is suing Mountain State University after she claims she was fired for informing students about the school's accreditation problems.

Former university president Charles H. Polk also was named as a defendant in the suit.

From August 2006 until Jan. 20, 2011, Dr. Kimberly H. O'Toole was employed as a professor of sociology by the defendants, according to a complaint filed July 12 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

O'Toole claims in October 2010, she and other faculty members were summoned to a meeting with Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Roslyn Clark-Artis, where they were advised that accreditation for the defendant's School of Nursing was in jeopardy, but they were instructed not to discuss the problems with the students.

In October and November 2010, O'Toole was approached by numerous students and asked about potential problems with the school's accreditation and she refused to lie to the students and advised them that the accreditation was in jeopardy, according to the suit.

O'Toole claims on Dec. 14, 2010, Polk addressed the faculty at a faculty senate meeting and advised them that any teacher who discussed the accreditation with students or attempted to help students transfer to another school would be fired for treason and that he would make sure "that all 'traitors' were terminated."

On Jan. 20, 2011, in retaliation for informing students that the nursing school failed to meet the national accreditation standards, O'Toole's employment was terminated without warning or reprimand, according to the suit.

O'Toole claims the defendants' actions were a breach of her employment agreement, which required her to participate in collateral activities, such as providing direction of students.

As a result of the defendants' actions, O'Toole suffered lost wages and benefits; embarrassment; humiliation; and emotional distress, according to the suit.

O'Toole is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. She is being represented by C. Benjamin Salango and Patrick Joseph Salango.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr.

Earlier this month, the Higher Learning Commission said it was withdrawing Mountain State's accreditation. They listed "systemic breakdowns in leadership, program oversight, integrity issues and failing to provide accreditation information to students" as the reasons for the withdrawal.

Because of an appeal and the fact that the Higher Learning Commission doesn't withdraw accreditation mid semester, Mountain State students could have through Dec. 31 to complete their degrees or earn credits from an accredited university.

Meanwhile the school is cutting half its staff and ceasing admission operations.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 12-C-1297

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