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MU officials promote university at state capitol

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 12:38 AM

CHARLESTON -- Marshall University students and officials were on hand at the Capitol in Charleston on Wednesday to showcase programs and projects to state lawmakers and the public.

Some said it couldn't have come at a better time, even though many officials were delayed in arriving because of a logging truck accident early Wednesday morning in Charleston that closed eastbound lanes on Interstate 64 until about 9:30 a.m.

Marshall Day is usually held in late February during the legislative session. That means when Marshall Day rolls around, some lawmakers are busy in committee meetings or have already sponsored major legislation.

But after a gubernatorial election, the session starts a month later than normal. With this year's session just getting started, there is hope that Marshall's message was heard loud and clear before legislators take up bills concerning higher education and proposed budget cuts -- more than $6 million of which would come from the university and medical school.

"What we would lose is almost exactly what we were given (last year) to address the LCME citations," said Dr. Joseph Shapiro, dean of the School of Medicine.

The med school received an additional $1.34 million to help establish programs and fund needed positions to address the citations from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which led to the school's probation status with that accrediting agency.

"It will be difficult to manage those programs ... if that money went away," Shapiro added.

Marshall President Stephen Kopp made similar comments, saying he hoped legislators were able to get a glimpse Wednesday of the value of higher education and the impact Marshall is making in terms of economic development.

"For every dollar spent on Marshall, there's over a $20 return to the state," Kopp said. "I'd take that investment over anything."

One of the projects touted in the second-floor rotunda was the $11 million renovation to the former Stone and Thomas Building in downtown Huntington, which will become home to many of the university's art programs. Renovations started in January and are expected to take about 18 months.

"We wanted to make sure people are acquainted with the project," said Don Van Horn, dean of the College of Fine Arts. "We're not sure if even our local representatives are up to speed on what we're trying to do."

Students also were in Charleston to talk about Marshall and some even focused on the proposed budget cuts. Student Body President Ray Harrell said students have a lot to say because they and their families make up for reduced state funding through tuition increases.

Matt James, the former student body president and current student resource specialist, said Marshall Day always provides an opportunity for conversations with lawmakers. This year is as critical as any year to do that, he said.

"It gives us an opportunity as the Marshall community to put forth our best efforts to show the state legislators what Marshall stands for," James said. "It's one of the best opportunities for students, staff and administrators to have dialogue ... to help us achieve goals and hear our challenges."

Delegates Carol Miller and Kelli Sobonya said they understand the concerns Marshall officials have regarding the possibility of losing 7.5 percent of its state appropriation. That's part of the reason why they voted against a magistrate salary increase bill Wednesday, because it would add $750,000 a year to the state's budget.

Miller said she couldn't vote for any bill that raised salaries at a time when Marshall and other state agencies are faced with trimming their own budgets.

"We've got guys here from Marshall asking for help with their budget," she said. "I just don't think it's time for a pay raise."

Sobonya said if lawmakers really think education is a top priority, then they have to look at making sure those institutions are properly funded.

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