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Judge dismisses lawsuit in 2007 WVU degree scandal

Aug. 22, 2013 @ 02:40 PM

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed the latest lawsuit against West Virginia University over a 6-year-old master’s degree scandal involving the daughter of a former governor.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey issued an order Wednesday dismissing all three counts against WVU’s former academic integrity officer, various administration officials and the school’s Board of Governors.

Former business school dean Stephen Sears and former associate dean Cyril Logar had argued that WVU ignored its obligation to repair their tarnished reputations since an academic-misconduct investigation ended. They accused WVU of breach of contract and denial of their due-process rights.  

WVU did not immediately comment Thursday.

The lawsuit was the third that Sears and Logar have filed in four years. All have failed.

Last summer, WVU said there would be no further action against anyone involved in altering transcripts, creating grades and awarding an executive master of business administration degree to Heather Bresch. She’s the chief executive officer of Pennsylvania-based generic drug maker Mylan Inc. and the daughter of former governor and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

An independent investigation revealed that Bresch hadn’t earned the degree and that administrators added courses and grades to her transcript. The investigators ruled that former provost Gerald Lang, Sears, Logar and others “showed seriously flawed judgment.”  

Although the investigation concluded Bresch did nothing wrong in trying to establish whether she’d earned the degree, it cited a failure of leadership at high levels in the administration and suggested there was pressure from Lang and “representatives of the president’s office” to accommodate Bresch.   

WVU’s president at the time, Mike Garrison, was also a friend of Bresch.

WVU eventually rescinded the degree, but the scandal ended some academic careers and redirected others. Garrison and some of his leadership team resigned their posts, and Lang also gave up his title.

Sears stepped down and took a job as dean of Texas A&M International University’s A.R. Sanchez School of business.  

Logar resigned his administrative position and remains a WVU professor but contends he has lost potential research and consulting opportunities, and become “an outcast in the WVU community.”

The lawsuit had accused WVU of behaving “arbitrarily and capriciously” and of depriving the former deans of their constitutional right to fair treatment. But Bailey ruled that the rights outlined in WVU’s academic integrity policy are not constitutional matters.

“It certainly is not a fundamental right,” he wrote, “such as relating to marriage, family, procreation and the right to bodily integrity.”

The second count of the lawsuit alleged Sears and Lang were denied procedural due process. But Bailey said the plaintiffs failed, among other things, to identify any defamatory statements and failed to prove that any statements made about them were false.

“Perhaps most important,” the judge wrote, “the failure to remediate reputational damage does not appear to be a sufficient liberty interest to support a claim for the violation of due process.”

Finally, Bailey said the federal court lacks jurisdiction to hear Logar and Sears’ breach of contract claim.