Was the ''resignation" by West Virginia University President Mike Garrison actually a ruse to let him continue receiving his $225,000 salary for the entire three-year duration of his contract - nearly two years past his Sept. 1 quitting date? When he announced his departure recently, Garrison didn't use the word ''resign." Quickly, WVU insiders suspected that the evasive wording might have legal implications.
Recently, WVU information officers referred news reporters to a paragraph in Garrison's three-year employment agreement saying the WVU Board of Governors ''commits to employ you as president, or in some other capacity, in a position it may determine, at the presidential salary provided for herein and as increased from time to time by the board, for a term ending June 30, 2010, unless (a) you voluntarily resign or retire, or (b) you are terminated."
Could Garrison claim that he didn't voluntarily resign and thus stay on the WVU payroll two more years? Can the board claim it isn't terminating him? So far, neither the president nor the board will answer these questions. But West Virginians - who own WVU - deserve answers.
Frankly, since he made a public announcement that he voluntarily decided to cease being WVU president, we don't know how that could be construed as anything except a resignation.
However, Board of Governors Chairman Stephen Goodwin told the Inside Higher Ed news site recently: ''There are some ways he might be given an assignment within the university. It depends on what his interests are. ... He could be an advisor or consultant in some way in the university."
An Inside Higher Ed reporter asked Goodwin whether a faculty and donor backlash would occur if Garrison stays on the WVU payroll. The chairman replied: ''There will be a backlash if we don't shoot him."
Already, some WVU teachers are protesting. Medical professor Judy Sedgeman said: ''It makes no sense that a president who resigned in disgrace would want to remain. ..."
Meanwhile, as it continues reeling from the scandal over the governor's daughter's unearned degree, WVU is seeking an interim president to administer the flagship school until Garrison's permanent successor can be found.
Now is the time for high quality. Even for the temporary post, the Board of Governors should choose an outstanding figure who commands respect in the education world - someone capable of pulling WVU out of the shadow that dims it.
Cleansing WVU will take time. It will require a fresh start with new faces - especially outstanding figures known for integrity. Let the healing begin.