CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A prominent economics professor at West Virginia University said Wednesday he is leaving the school.
Russell Sobel, who holds the distinguished chair of entrepreneurial studies at WVU's College of Business and Economics, wrote in an email in response to questions from the Gazette that "I have decided to leave WVU."
Sobel continued, "My seventeen and a half years at WVU have been wonderful, and I greatly value the relationships I have built here. I am in discussions about several new opportunities, and I look forward to updating you when the details are finalized."
Earlier Wednesday, John A. Bolt, WVU director of university relations, had said Sobel was still employed by WVU.
"Russell Sobel is still an employee of the university. Beyond that we don't comment on personnel matters," Bolt said. Asked if he would deny Sobel was leaving, Bolt repeated, "We don't comment on personnel matters."
Someone responded to questions sent to his WVU email address on Wednesday with a statement that said: "Dr. Russell Sobel is no longer available at this e-mail address." The statement provided a Google email address to contact Sobel.
Mindy Wells, director of the Entrepreneurship Center at the College of Business and Economics, said earlier Wednesday of Sobel's departure, "I don't really know anything about that. ... You need to talk to someone in the dean's office."
Sobel remained on the WVU business school's website as of Wednesday evening. He is teaching an Economics 201 course this fall and overseeing eight students pursuing doctoral degrees in economics, according to the website.
Sobel is perhaps best known as editor of the 2007 book "Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It." The book was hailed by some state leaders, including then-Gov. Joe Manchin, who had Sobel give a presentation to his cabinet members.
But others questioned Sobel's conclusions, including the idea that mine safety laws often harm miners by lowering their wages while doing little to prevent major disasters. At least two state lawmakers blasted the book's views on the history of the coal industry; one lawmaker, Republican Bill Hamilton of Upshur County, likened it to believing the Holocaust never happened.
A vice president for the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute said the book's "arguments have little or no foundation in economic reality."
The book was published by the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, a conservative Morgantown group funded in part by Charles and David Koch. The Koch brothers, ranked as the fourth- and fifth-richest Americans by Forbes magazine, have spent tens of millions of dollars financing right-wing political organizations. Sobel has said the Koch brothers have no influence over research done by his department's faculty and students.Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.