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MIDWAY COLLEGE ISSUES

Pharmacy-school debacle brought down Midway College president, raised questions

By Cassidy Herrington
Midway Messenger
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway College’s ambitious plan for a pharmacy school in Eastern Kentucky was a ship that sank before it ever sailed, taking the college’s president with it.

The private college twice withdrew its applications for accreditation of the school, amid doubts from accreditors. The project died last month when its would-be rescuer, the University of Charleston, decided not to proceed with it.

The debacle has raised questions about the management, health and future direction of Midway College, which is Midway’s biggest taxpayer and probably its largest landowner.

The departure of William “Butch” Drake, right, as president was described as a resignation, but from all other indications, he was fired or told to resign.

“The executive committee or the chairman said he should go,” said Emily Gable of Frankfort, a member of the college’s Board of Trustees. And, she said, the main reason was the pharmacy school.

That seems to be common knowledge on campus. “A lot of different things . . . contributed to it but it mostly boiled down to the pharmacy school,” said Ali Edwards, a Midway College nursing student.

Paintsville lawyer Chad Perry and his wife, Julianne “Judy” Perry, a trustee of Midway College and 1955 graduate of the school, launched the project after Chad Perry’s initial dream of an osteopathic medical school ended up becoming a reality in Pikeville instead.

The couple pledged $13 million to the project. A Jan. 23, 2010, codicil to their wills says $12 million “is to be spent on a building, and to date we have paid $1,050,000.”

The City of Paintsville contributed a site and building for temporary use, valued at $1.25 million, and Johnson County committed $200,000. (Map by Cody Porter from MapQuest image)

The Perrys’ vision was to provide more jobs and access to health care for the area. Drake estimated the school would bring in $30 million annually and create more than 100 jobs.

To be accredited, the school had to hire and pay faculty a year in advance. More than two years and millions of dollars later, there is no pharmacy school in Paintsville and there is unlikely to be one.

Problems with deans

The first dean of the pharmacy school was hit by a truck and replaced by Barry Bleidt, who had been associate dean. He was dismissed in October 2011 after serious problems arose.

“There was an expectation that costs would be at a certain level and probably through the poor management of this second dean the cost had at least doubled,” said Robert King, president of the state Council on Postsecondary Education.

The CPE required Midway College to send a quarterly report documenting its progress, as a requirement of its conditional license from the state. During the summer of 2011, CPE staff visited the proposed site in Paintsville and were told that the project was “coming along,” said King.

After the visit, the college missed a reporting deadline. CPE officials began asking questions and learned by January 2012 that the accreditation application with the American Council of Pharmacy Education had been withdrawn — for a second time.

“Our understanding was that . . . the accreditors knew that [they] were at least unlikely to grant them accreditation, back sometime in late spring,” King said. “It was before our site visit. The report that summer was not forthcoming . . . Their failure to disclose that to us was a breach of the responsibility under the conditional license.”

King said the dean, Bleidt, “was also a person that the accreditors knew and did not have high regard for.” A lawsuit had accused Bleidt of using academic material without attribution during his time at Texas A&M University. The suit was settled privately in fall 2011, but he came under a similar cloud involving Midway’s proposed pharmacy curriculum.

“A model had apparently been taken from another university but without appropriate attribution,” King said. “It was apparently made clear to the campus that the accreditors were not satisfied that the leadership that had been brought in to the pharmacy school was not a person they were willing to support through accreditation.”

The school's temporary home (Photos by Cody Porter)
Bleidt could not be reached for comment, and Midway College officials declined comment though the college was given a list of questions in writing.

According to minutes of a college Board of Trustees finance committee meeting on Oct. 13, then-Provost Sarah Laws and the college’s vice president for business and finance, Lyen Crews, reported on the accreditation issues.

“Dr. Laws added the ACPE made it very clear that their concern was the inexperience or no experience shown by the dean and the young faculty,” the minutes say. The minutes, available by clicking here, also say Crews “added the information Dr. Bleidt had submitted for the review had not been updated, therefore was out of date. Mr. Crews said, thus, there was no understanding or concept of what it would take to run and build the school.”

Money problems

Another problem was that the estimated cost of a permanent building turned out to be about double the $12 million pledged by the Perrys. “Based on the information that Dr. Laws received from Dr. Bleidt, she investigated and estimated the building as designed would cost $25 million to build,” the minutes say. “Mr. Crews stated ACPE made it clear at their May visit that the college had to show sufficient financial backing in order to build.”

At this time, according to the minutes, the college had a debt of $10.5 million to PNC Bank, and the bank had turned down a request for an additional loan, the amount of which is not specified by the minutes.

Entrance to the site
The minutes also say that the Board of Trustees had “approved an increase to the college’s line of credit of $1.5,” presumably meaning $1.5 million, and Crews had at the same board meeting “asked for $1 million from the college’s endowment be used. Approval to use the endowment has yet to be granted.”

After another meeting of the Board of Trustees, Bleidt was dismissed.

On Dec. 22, the school again withdrew its application for accreditation, telling ACPE it was working with the University of Charleston, which recently opened a pharmacy school on its West Virginia campus, to establish a school in Paintsville.

But then the project lost the confidence of its major donor, Judy Perry, after she had delivered $4 million of the $13 million pledge.

“When you have a major donor decide they don’t want to be a major donor anymore, that’s tough. That creates a lot of problems,” Trustee Joe Graviss, chairman of the finance committee, said in an interview. He didn’t mention Perry by name, but she has long been identified as the major donor.

Perry insisted in an interview last month that she hadn’t withdrawn support from a viable project, saying it had died with the second withdrawal of application for accreditation. “They put that in the audit report that I withdrew my pledge,” she said. “My pledge was for a building to be erected in Paintsville, Kentucky. I contributed to this project until Dr. Drake withdrew the application.”

College officials tried to recoup Perry’s pledge, but last month, the University of Charleston said the project was not in its best interests and dropped the idea.

The decision was a second disappointment to students who had been admitted to the school. If Charleston had taken over the program, they would have had to reapply, with no guarantee of admission. One unnamed student told The Paintsville Herald that some students were considering legal action.

The students as a whole had not scored well on the Pharmacy College Admission Test, and that may have been a factor in Charleston’s decision. According to the finance committee minutes, “At least 57 percent of students that applied to the School of Pharmacy were below average on their PCAT.” Charleston Pharmacy Dean Michelle Easton did not return a call seeking comment.

The debacle’s impact on Midway College is uncertain. College officials declined to answer any questions for this story, including how much had been spent on the project and whether any of the college endowment had been tapped.

According to the Oct. 13 finance committee minutes, Board Chairman Jim O’Brien, CEO of Ashland Inc., suggested backing the project with funds from the college’s endowment. King said he did not know if the college had tapped into its endowment to cover costs of the pharmacy project. “I don’t think that was the initial plan,” King said. “It may have come to pass and that’s something we’re looking at right now.”

CPE is interested in the private college’s finances because it enforces the state law that requires private schools to have enough money to make refunds to students in case they go out of business. King said Midway’s latest report “indicates that the unrestricted endowment was greater than the maximum tuition liability, by a little under two million dollars.”

The report and the one for 2011 show that the unrestricted endowment grew from mid-2010 to mid-2011, to more than $7.44 million from just under $6.29 million.

King said he called Drake, O’Brien and Crews to his Frankfort office for a meeting Jan. 31 partly because the college had failed to submit quarterly progress reports and had failed to disclose its accreditation problems.

Asked how the officials explained their failure to disclose, “I don’t know that they ever really did,” King said.

Asked how they characterized the college’s finances, “I don’t remember specifics,” King said. “By then the donor had pulled back and I think they were still holding out hope that they might persuade the donor to reconsider . . . because they had been able to initiate a discussion with Charleston.” King added, “It was unclear at the time of our meeting what the ultimate impact was going to be on a financial basis to the college.”

The last evidence of the school is this sign on its temporary home.

Drake’s departure was officially announced March 20. Robert Vogel became interim president, and the board is in the beginning stages of finding a new president.

Trustee Donna Moore is chairing the presidential search committee and says the new president must keep both Midway College and Midway the community in mind. “We are looking forward to bettering the institution, it is the role of the board,” Moore said.

King said he met Vogel and the new academic vice president, Marlene Helm, last week, and “I suspect they’ll right the ship and put Midway back in a positive direction.”

Information for this story was also gathered by University of Kentucky journalism students Cody Porter and Morgan Rhodes, and by instructor Al Cross.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am one of the students who was supposed to attend the Midway College school of Pharmacy. The staff were very deceptive about the accreditation status.

I was told that the ACPE had done an unofficial visit and indicated that there should be no problems. They also said that the ACPE had a checklist and Midway had already met all of the minimum standards, but that they couldn't officially update their status until after the visit.