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Wheeling University Board Chair Sees Bright Future Ahead for School

Suspended president Ginny Favede no longer employed by university

DAVID HENDRICKSON

WHEELING — The chairman of Wheeling University’s Board of Trustees believes the university will emerge from its last few tumultuous months and remain a “strong, viable institution.”

“We’ve had a lot of issues that we’ve overcome the last 90 days,” board chair David Hendrickson said Monday. “We’ve got a solid, conservative budget for (the 2024-25 academic year). Enrollment is looking pretty good. We’ll take it one day at a time and we’re going to be back for next year, hopefully doing well.”

Wheeling University has seen its share of struggles recently. The university had been removed from probation by the Higher Learning Commission in February 2023, but earlier this year dealt with facility repair issues. Twenty-five students were temporarily moved out of their dorm rooms and into other spaces in February after water pipes installed at Ignatius Hall in the early 1990s had become compromised and were causing moisture issues. That same month, the university suspended President Ginny Favede with pay. No reason was publicly given.

Hendrickson said Favede was no longer employed by the university as of May 31, saying the university “went in a different direction.” He declined to elaborate.

Former Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna Vargo, who had been working at WU as its Director of Graduate Education & Accelerated Certification for Teaching Programs, assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer when Favede was suspended.

Hendrickson said Vargo will continue in that role, saying she has done a “wonderful, wonderful job.” Discussions about the search for a new president have not yet begun, he added.

Hendrickson said it has been very fortuitous to have someone with Vargo’s expertise already on campus to take the reins.

“She has been a tremendous gift,” he said. “She’s loved on campus by not just the faculty and staff, but also by the students. Her attitude is infectious. You couldn’t ask for a better person to be in the position she’s in right now.”

Now university officials are looking toward the future, and doing so with a keen eye on the university’s fiscal outlook. The HLC put WU on probation back in 2021 after it determined the university did not “have sufficient fiscal resources to support its operation,” and relied too heavily on subsidies it received from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

After the probation was lifted, the HLC continued to monitor the university for financial, staffing and enrollment concerns. In the letter the HLC sent to WU at that time, it said that “(w)hile the Institution has demonstrated progress in growing enrollment, current enrollment continues to be insufficient to meet the institution’s fiscal needs.

“The Institution has demonstrated a pattern of using unrealistic projections of enrollment growth in its enrollment and fiscal planning. However, the Institution has recently sought to address this by retaining a consulting firm to assist the institution on enrollment management.”

Hendrickson said that, moving forward, Wheeling University has to “live within our means.” There have been several safeguards put into the university budget to keep WU on the right track. It has underbudgeted the number of students it projects to have enrolled, and overbudgeted for costs like faculty and staff, allowing for a cushion in the coffers.

“We’ve got several safeguards in our budget so that if something happens that’s unforeseen, we’ve got some backstop there to help us going forward,” he said.

Adjusting enrollment projections has been key, Hendrickson said, considering previous ambitious projections concerned the Higher Learning Commission and there was a need to become more realistic.

“It doesn’t do anybody any good to put a budget together that’s unrealistic from the very start,” Hendrickson said. “At the end of the day, we’re still running a business at Wheeling University and we have to pay our bills and we have to make sure that we have enough money on hand to cover any contingencies.

“We budgeted a number that we felt was under what we’re going to have for the fall,” he continued. “And I think we’ll be fine. Every institution in West Virginia is scrambling for students now. I don’t care whether you’re WVU or you’re Wheeling University or anyplace else. Everybody’s out there trying to make sure that what they’re doing for kids is, number one, give them a quality education and at the best price possible.”

The university also has just completed an audit of its physical plant and addressed and fixed several issues, Hendrickson said. The Wheeling-Charleston Diocese also has approved several priority projects on campus. Hendrickson feels that, overall, the campus is in pretty good physical condition.

While not a graduate of Wheeling University, Hendrickson — a Charleston-based attorney who is a graduate of WVU and WVU’s College of Law — is well-versed in education matters. He is the former chairman of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, and has been a member of the West Virginia Council for Ƶ and Technical College Education and Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. He also is a good friend of Wheeling attorney James C. Gardill, who has worked with the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese. The group approached Hendrickson to help get WU back on track.

He believes Wheeling University is on its way to doing that. He considers WU at the starting line of what will be a marathon and he feels the university’s faculty and staff are up for the challenge.

“I’m very, very proud of the way that folks at Wheeling University have handled themselves and handled all the situations they had to,” he said. “All the faculty and staff have pitched in and done what they have to do to make this thing work. I think the future’s bright.”

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