MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Veteran educator C. Peter Magrath, former president of the University of Missouri, two other universities and a national higher education group, was named interim president of West Virginia University on Tuesday.
Magrath will succeed President Mike Garrison, who is stepping down Sept. 1 over a master’s degree scandal involving the governor’s daughter. Magrath, 75, will play a key role in helping the university rebuild its damaged national reputation and choose a permanent successor.
“Let there be no misunderstanding. West Virginia University is a very, very good university. It can and should be better because all universities must improve. This is a good place,” Magrath said.
Magrath (pronounced muh-GRAW’) has the academic credentials to satisfy faculty critics who had decried Garrison’s appointment last year as political cronyism. Garrison, a 39-year-old lawyer, was chief of staff to former Democratic Gov. Bob Wise.
Magrath, in contrast, is former president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, D.C., which represents the interests of 215 public research universities and land-grant colleges. He’s also served as president of three public universities — the UM System, 1985-91; the University of Minnesota, 1974-85; and the State University of New York at Binghamton, 1972-74.
Magrath held faculty and administrative positions at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1968-72, and Brown University, 1961-68. He’s also written several books and articles on constitutional law and history, higher education and international affairs.
Magrath said the opportunity to lead WVU was “totally unexpected” and he is eager to begin working with faculty, staff, students and alumni.
“I’m very enthusiastic about what we will do together. Although I did not solicit this, I do appreciate the confidence the governors have put in me. We’re going to do some very good things for a very good university,” he said.
Finding a permanent replacement for Magrath will now become the focus for the newly reconstituted Board of Governors.
Three new members were sworn in Tuesday morning: Ray Lane, a venture capitalist and former software company executive; Charles M. Vest, former Massachusetts Institute of Technology president; and Oliver Luck, president of the Houston Dynamo soccer franchise and a former WVU quarterback.
Garrison is stepping down after months of unrelenting pressure from faculty, alumni, donors and students.
Steve Goodwin, chairman of the Board of Governors, said Garrison will no longer be a WVU employee after he steps down as president.
Board members unanimously approved on a voice vote an agreement under which Garrison will leave the university. Details of the agreement were not revealed Tuesday.
Last fall, WVU administrators awarded an executive master’s business of administration to his friend Heather Bresch, an executive with Pennsylvania-based generic drug maker Mylan Inc. and the daughter of Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin.
Manchin hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing in the flap.
An independent panel investigated, concluding Bresch hadn’t earned the degree, and that courses and grades were wrongly added to her transcript.
The panel did not accuse Garrison of direct interference but said the presence of three top aides at the decision-making meeting created palpable pressure.
The West Virginia Ethics Commission has made preliminary inquiries into the decision to grant Bresch the degree, WVU spokeswoman Becky Lofstead said Tuesday.
Lewis G. Brewer, the commission’s executive director, declined to comment Tuesday morning, saying he could neither confirm nor deny whether the ethics board is investigating.