To see a video of Wednesday's news conference, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkqVS7fkDm0&
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston is taking over Mountain State University's campuses in Beckley and Martinsburg at the end of the year, when the beleaguered private college will shut down.
"The closing of Mountain State University is sad and tragic for students, for faculty and staff, and for the Beckley and Martinsburg communities," UC President Ed Welch said in a news conference at MSU's Beckley campus on Wednesday morning. "UC is committed to filling the void that will be left and to maintaining a private higher education presence in Southern West Virginia and in the Eastern Panhandle."
Wednesday's announcement provides some clarity for the hundreds of students, community members and faculty around the state reeling after MSU became the first institution in West Virginia history to have its accreditation revoked a few weeks ago.
"This is the best news I've heard out of MSU in a long time," said Ryan Ratcliff, a Mountain State sophomore and president of the Student Government Association. "I get to continue my education in my hometown. Everything has been a roller coaster and now I've got a better idea of what's going on. It's awesome."
The Higher Learning Commission withdrew MSU's general accreditation in early July for years of breakdowns in leadership, program oversight, integrity issues and failing to properly communicate with students.
MSU officials worked out a deal with the HLC to extend the school's accreditation through Dec. 31 to allow MSU to implement a teach-out program for students who are eligible to graduate by the end of 2012.
After that December date, "the university will cease to operate," said Richard Sours, interim president of MSU.
MSU trustees initially said they planned to "fight the HLC's decision and win," but Sours now admits there is scant chance of success and doesn't know whether MSU will even appeal the decision.
For now, MSU is trying to cut its losses and, as Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh put it at Wednesday's news conference, "make lemonade out of lemons."
Under the arrangement, UC faculty will officially set up shop and begin teaching classes at MSU's West Virginia campuses during this fall's semester.
"Current MSU students are encouraged to transfer to the University of Charleston and continue their studies in Beckley," said Welch.
A more formal arrangement, in which UC will buy Mountain State's Beckley and Martinsburg property, will take place at the end of December.
"Once MSU goes out of business on Dec. 31, there will be a transfer of assets for UC to acquire MSU's property," said Welch. "We're still working out the details."
MSU bought the 79-acre Martinsburg Mall property, located at 800 Foxcroft Ave. in Martinsburg, in 2010 for about $11 million. MSU also has a Martinsburg campus located about a mile away from the Martinsburg Mall off Viking Way, where UC will set up.
For now, MSU and UC have drafted a "memorandum of understanding" in which UC has agreed to continue offering undergraduate and graduate programs on the Beckley campus and eventually appoint board members from the Beckley community to the UC board.