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MSU president among highest-paid college presidents in the country

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The president of Mountain State University, a private college in the midst of serious accreditation problems, received the sixth-highest paycheck of private college presidents in the nation in 2009, according to a new report by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Charles H. Polk, who has led Mountain State since 1990, made more than $1.8 million in total compensation in 2009, according to a tax form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

"$1.8 million, that's quite a number," said Brian Noland, chancellor of the state Higher Education Policy Commission. "That is obviously outside of the norm."

The median compensation for a university president in the state is about $200,000, Noland said.

"The compensation for the president is something between him and his board, so I can't comment about whether that is right or wrong," said Noland. "But that is triple the compensation of the president of West Virginia University, which is our state's land-grant institution and has a medical school."

West Virginia University President Jim Clements's salary was $550,000 for the 2011-12 school year.

Polk came to MSU in 1990, after he resigned as president of Daytona Beach Community College in Florida amid an investigation by the Florida Ethics Commission that he had violated Florida law for having a contractual relationship with a real estate developer who was doing business with the college.

In 1991, the Ethics Commission found that Polk did violate Florida law and said he should be publicly censured, according to the Ethics Commission case report.

Polk could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

MSU spokesman Andy Wessels declined to comment about Polk's pay and benefits, but in September, Jerry Ice, chairman of MSU Board of Trustees, wrote a letter to the Gazette explaining Polk's compensation.

Ice said Polk's high compensation was the result of a retirement package that the board set up in 2004 and was required to pay out in 2009. He called it a "one-time" expenditure and said Polk's salary was only a quarter of the $1.8 million figure.

"The trustees of Mountain State University believe they have governed the institution in a fully informed manner and have respected the fiduciary responsibility to the University and its constituents," Ice wrote.

According to the Chronicle report, Polk's base salary for 2009 was $371,269. He received more than $1.4 million in other pay and more than $4,000 in nontaxable benefits, said the report.

Polk's compensation eats up a sizable portion of MSU's overall budget -- about 3.5 percent, according to the report. Most colleges only spent about 0.4 percent of their budgets on their presidents.

"Dr. Polk has led the university to great success in providing accessible educational opportunities to students who seek them," wrote Ice.

Mountain State University is currently reeling from serious accreditation problems in its nursing program and is in jeopardy of losing its primary accreditation if school officials don't make changes to the nursing school and correct other findings in the HLC order.

Last week, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education refused to nationally accredit MSU's nursing program. University officials had applied to CCNE for alternate national accreditation after a different national accrediting agency pulled its accreditation from the school in late March for deficiencies.

A number of former nursing students have also sued the university for giving students "intentional, fraudulent and reckless" claims about the nursing program's accreditation status, according to court documents filed in Kanawha County last month.

MSU will submit a self-study to the Higher Learning Commission, the regional accrediting agency that provides the school with its primary accreditation, in the upcoming weeks. In June, the HLC issued a show-cause order to Mountain State, telling officials they needed to turn around a number of problems largely concentrated in the nursing program or risk losing school-wide accreditation.

HLC representatives will visit Mountain State in mid-February to see if improvements have been made, and in June will decide whether to completely withdraw the school's accreditation.

"We continue to be optimistic about our future, and remain committed to our mission and more importantly, to our students, faculty and staff," Polk told students in an email on Monday.

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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