West Virginia University must create a positive vision of the future for not only the campus and the state, but also for a nation that increasingly mistrusts higher education, President Gordon Gee said Tuesday (March 19).
“We cannot let caution or skepticism deter us from visualizing a happier population, a healthier environment and a better world,” Gee said in his biannual State of the University address.
WVU can lead a vibrant national conversation about the value of public higher education that includes value and the need to change, he said, noting that change is difficult and often comes with disagreement, discourse and disappointment. However, he said change also comes with innovation, enthusiasm and reward.
WVU must return to its origins as a “people’s university,” while honing its efforts to align academics with purpose, becoming even more student-centric, creating a continual student experience and pioneering progress, Gee said.
Gee said he was proud of WVU’s accomplishments, including its Carnegie R1 research ranking, the highest possible and shared by only 130 other universities, and the work to confront the state’s opioid epidemic from every possible angle.
A video highlighting the University’s research initiatives as an R1 institution preceded Gee’s address.
“We must focus on our purpose so we can stand strong to make the hard, difficult changes that will change the face of higher education and the future of West Virginia University,” Gee said.
Gee challenged his audience to determine how they will influence the trajectory of change.
“In a state that no longer manufactures products the way it used to, West Virginia University’s faculty, staff and students have no choice but to manufacture transformation,” Gee said. “We must pioneer progress. We must stand together with a strong sense of self and a steady hand.
“Our University must help people forge meaningful bonds. In pockets of this state where despair has settled, we must find those bright lights who are willing to make a difference,” he said. “By connecting them with our work and the people who need help, we see small and large miracles starting to occur.”
During the speech, Gee mentioned the recent controversy over a bill in the West Virginia Legislature that would have allowed people with concealed carry permits to have guns on campus.
“(W)hile there were moments of discontent and disrespect,” he said, “we were able to remind each other of our core values and allow everyone the opportunity to share his or her opinion. Standing as a beacon for civil discourse is a fitting extension of our history, because nothing is quite as uniquely American as land-grant universities.”