By Sarah Plummer
The Mountain State University Board of Trustees appointed Dr. Richard Sours to serve as interim university president Tuesday.
Sours is the former president of William Penn University, in Iowa, and has most recently served, since September 2011, as interim dean of Mountain State’s School of Arts and Science.
In an interview Tuesday with The Register-Herald, Sours said he is ready to begin, focusing his efforts on accreditation issues, rebuilding relationships with the community, and examining the school’s internal structure.
Sours, whose appointment is effective immediately, is not new to working with the Higher Learning Commission on amending accreditation concerns.
When Sours became president of William Penn University in May 2004, the school had just received notice of concerns after a comprehensive visit.
Sours does note that Mountain State’s issues have progressed much further than William Penn’s. The HLC usually sends a notice before placing a school on probation and before a show-case order is issued. William Penn issued a report to the commission written by Sours and was taken off notice.
Two year later, he explained, the High Learning Commission re-accredited William Penn for 10 years, the maximum amount permitted, including the approval of two new programs, a bachelor’s in nursing and a master’s in business leadership.
“I do have experience working with accrediting bodies, in particular the Higher Learning Commission, and I feel confident going forward,” he said. “The groundwork has already been laid by Dr. Jerry Ice (Chairman of the Board of Trustees) but we still have a lot of work to do to become fully compliant with the Higher Learning Commission’s requirements. We have made huge strides and will keep working on it.”
Sours plans to carry forward the Strategic Plan developed by Ice and the trustees and make changes to ensure accreditation by the High Learning Commission; “rebuild community relations and our standing and credibility in Beckley, Raleigh County, southern West Virginia, and the entire state; and to do an examination of certain parts of our operations,” he explained.
Ice has asked Sours to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of Mountain State’s satellite campuses and to look at the school’s internal organization structure to see if it can be made more efficient, he said.
“Speaking for the trustees and the people on campus,” added Sours, “we very much appreciate the support the community showed the Higher Learning Commission’s visiting team. In addition to the ‘We Support MSU’ signs, there was a luncheon for community people with the visiting team and we had many more people accept the invitation than we could accommodate. There were many signs of support from the community.”
“I am please and gratified that the Board of Trustees has shown the confidence in me to name me the interim president. I have been at MSU exactly six months and I am very enthusiastic about the potential here,” Sours said.
“We have a lot of work to do, but I’m anxious to get started.”
The Board of Trustees chose Sours from the Registry of College and University Presidents and from three highly qualified candidates after interviews were conducted on Sunday and Monday.
According to a press release issued by the university, Mountain State faculty and staff met and evaluated each candidate, which was a key component to the board’s choice.
Ice commented, “We presented all of the candidates with a list of the challenges we face. The university is committed to following the path outlined in our Strategic Plan, and will take all of the necessary steps in shared governance, resource allocation and other areas that will meet the standards of the Higher Learning Commission.”
Public relations officer Andrew Wessels confirmed the university has received a written report from the High Leaning Commission’s Show-Cause visit in February, but the commission does not allow details of those reports to be released.
Sours said the school is able to correct errors of fact in the commission’s report and will resubmit the corrected report. The University will then meet with the commission in May before their final decision regarding Mountain State’s general accreditation in June.
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