Restructuring public higher education governance in West Virginia, 1969-1989: a policy study

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Virginia Tech


The West Virginia Board of Regents, age 20, statewide governing board for higher education, died June 30, 1989 as a result of legislative termination. Like so many of its progenitors, the Board, an abstraction without constituencies or political proponents, was quietly written out of the State Code. There were no eulogies.

In a retrospective search for the cause of death, the enactment, implementation, and termination of the Board were analyzed. The dynamics of the political processes through which the structure of higher education governance was modified during its two decades were documented. The political legacy and challenging cultural bequests of the Board were profiled.

A political epitaph for the Regents included the following inscriptions. The governance structure of higher education in the great state of West Virginia is what the governor, the legislature, the campus presidents, and their creation(s), the board(s), perceive it to be.

In its finest hours, structuring can be a political coalition, a partnership, dedicated to the public interest, striving for quality, access and excellence.

In its darkest days, Structure can become a political target, an object of control, a source of rivalry and competition.

Restructuring is a ritual within a highly individualistic political culture which reveres higher education as an instrument of government. Restructuring is invoked when one or more of the partners is shunned or shunted and, as a result publicly reveals that structuring is a political process.

Then, structure must be sacrificed to restore trust, to revive public confidence in those entrusted with governance.

Restructuring produces a new governance structure and reestablishes a process of structuring.