Speech by Former Delegate Cindy Frich (44th) Scheduled Keynote Speaker * WVU Mountainlair*
I want to thank the organizers for inviting me to join you today in speaking about "accountability, honesty in public office, about this incident, and ethics in general". What an honor that you thought of me as "someone for whom these values are near and dear". Why are we here today? What has piqued such interest in accountability, honesty and ethical behavior that we should convene on the green of the WVU Mountainlair this beautiful June day? There is a cloud above us this spring day. A dark and threatening cloud has shrouded West Virginia University, stirring storms of dissatisfied faculty. It has cast a shadow upon disappointed, embarrassed alumni, students and their parents, cooled donors, and calmed suddenly shy politicians. When Ms. Heather Manchin Kirby Bresch was awarded a degree which she did not earn or even pay for, West Virginia's crown jewel, our crown jewel of WVU, become a political arm of a ruling elite. What are the consequences? A resounding lack of confidence in the administration erodes its leadership. WVU's reputation has been tarnished, faculty are leaving, future grants may be in question, and the Health Sciences Center appears to be in disarray. This controversy has split our community and our state with well meaning people on both sides. Unfortunately, for the past several months, some have allowed WVU to be degraded, ripped apart and dragged through the mud for their own political and economic benefit. But, you know, we do not have to tolerate corruption. When I attended the faculty assembly meeting, people wanted to know ""how can we fix the Board of Governors?"" What can we do legislatively to improve the governance of WVU or diminish the fear and intimidation perceived on campus? Several years ago I recognized a problem existed, so in 2005 and 2006, I introduced and co-sponsored HB 3330 to protect academic freedom and integrity for faculty and students. Although the legislation was not acted upon, it addresses fairness, accountability, and transparency in search committees, an issue on the minds of many in our WVU community. Now that the challenges on campus are becoming more public and acute, perhaps the time is right for legislative actions to be prompted. Clearly, governance by the Board of Governors should be protected from overreaching politicians. Perhaps increasing faculty, staff and student ratios on the board for shared governance would be one solution. I have even heard of some on campus asking that the board be elected. Now is the time to reach out to faculty and alumni for their advice.
Every four years my political party rewrites its platform. I have helped draft our simple vision for institutions of higher learning in West Virginia through the following plank: "We support: A higher education system, insulated from excessive political influence, that promotes intellectual integrity while defending the rights of faculty and students to be treated fairly regardless of their political or religious beliefs." The platform will be voted on June 21st. We can reorganize boards, standardize record keeping, or pass laws and regulations in hopes of rooting out corruption or eliminating fear and intimidation. But for most societies or organizations, laws don't always prevent bad people from doing terrible things. Fortunately, there is a sunshine ray of hope filtering through the cloud above us. We as faculty, students, parents, alumni, donors, advisors, community members, leaders, and future leaders have recognized how our beloved WVU was misused. We recognized corruption and we said "No". No More! What happened in this eMBA degree scandal is a symptom of a larger problem. It represents a microcosm of business and politics as usual in our state. Corruption, cronyism, and political patronage regularly go unnoticed or are shrugged off in a wink and a nod. We seem immune; it is often subtle, therefore difficult to detect. There is nothing subtle about what has happened here in Morgantown. It is easy to recognize the abuse of power that occurred. Its simplicity should spark a light so bright that West Virginians can finally see that corruption may empower the corrupt, but it can also make an institution crumble from within, whether that institution is a great university or a great state. Everyone of us has the power to solve this dilemma. We have the power of our vote. We can not afford to waste our vote on those who abuse their power and use our great institutions for their own personal gain. We can save this university, restoring academic excellence to West Virginia University, and we can improve our state by electing people of high integrity, responsibility, and goodwill. We can deny the honor of serving us to those who use the state treasury and government institutions to build their own power base. Politicians who serve their fellow politicians instead of us, do not deserve our vote. As a freshman legislator, one of my first actions was to honor a campaign wish for good government. We made all votes taken in the House of Delegates recorded roll call votes. The goal was to keep delegates accountable to the voters. We should always strive for improved accountability and transparency in government. It helps keep politicians honest. Technology is now available to bring transparency and more accountability of the legislature to the people. Forty-six other states allow live streaming audio or video of their legislators in action. West Virginians are being kept in the dark and should demand that the state Senate and House of Delegates allow themselves to be open for constituents to hear and see what is transpiring and how their government is operating. When one group maintains total control of our government for over 70 years, they become vulnerable to Lord Acton's axiom, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". As voters continue to turn a blind eye to the arrogant actions of their leaders, the politicians grow bolder. Election time is when politicians are likely to be listening. Make your wishes known to them now and chose wisely. Your vote gives these people power. Give your vote to those who will use this power with integrity, responsibility and goodwill. You have the power, and it is your responsibility.