Gee: WVU must ‘differentiate and lead’ during ‘perilous times’ in higher ed

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee called for transformation during Friday’s (Dec. 18) Board of Governors meeting, warning that across the country there is a loss of public trust and the perceived value of higher education has diminished.

“Post-pandemic, our University must come out stronger and smarter than we were when we were heading into the pandemic,” Gee said. “The reality is we need to improve quality while we decrease costs. We need to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace and make WVU a destination institution.”

Noting the ground-breaking research and collaborative projects to support WVU’s land-grant mission undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gee urged – now is the time to act and charged the provost and others to lead substantive conversations and working groups on how the University can differentiate and lead in higher ed.

“We do not want to manage ourselves in decline; we want to generate success,” Gee said. “I acknowledge while this may be an exciting call to action for some, it can be frightening and unnerving for others.” He continued, “My charge is not meant to instill anxiety – it is meant to inspire us to be better, to do better.

To that end, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop told the Board that financially, the work of faculty and staff to reduce spending has allowed the University, so far, to avoid reducing take home pay and avoid large-scale layoffs or reductions in force.

Alsop noted, however, that state appropriations have been reduced in recent years, and the University, like others, faces declining potential student population and increased competition amid a flat economy.

“We are a strong institution, but the reality is we are facing a new budget model,” Alsop said echoing earlier comments from Gee, ‘This isn’t something that COVID has caused, but COVID has confirmed what we already know.”

As a result, Alsop said that he will lead efforts to:

Analyze work-from-home options and workspace needs on campus
Evaluate competitive practices, auxiliary services, student housing and other capital improvements
Create a roadmap to update antiquated technology systems
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed outlined the need to prepare students for jobs of today and careers of tomorrow by creating new degree programs with a focus on diversity and inclusion, strengthening WVU’s R1 position and enhancing the University’s national reputation by zeroing in on key academic areas that set the institution apart. Reed specifically noted forensic science, neuroscience, supply chain management, music industry, sports and adventure media and addiction studies programs as examples.

Reed said her office would also lead efforts to identify and implement academic efficiencies and incentivize faculty in new ways with a focus on collaboration. She also highlighted the need to reward, recognize and retain highly productive faculty.

“Our faculty should be rewarded and recognized for their excellence and impact, whether that is by being a highly effective classroom teacher or a world-class researcher,” Reed said. “One size does not fit all, but our processes and guidelines don’t necessarily reflect that.”

Chair David Alvarez thanked Reed for the thoughtful approach being undertaken. “On behalf of the entire Board of Governors, I want to express our appreciation for the diligence shown here,” Alvarez said. “We all understand the challenges higher ed institutions are facing, and we must address them with urgency. The Board endorses these efforts and we have full confidence in WVU’s ability to successfully navigate these issues as we plan for a bright future.”

The Board approved interim appointments to the West Virginia University Health System Board of Directors. Randy Williams and Michelle Rotellini will serve as representatives from the 1st and 3rd Congressional Districts.

Members also voted to issue a notice to amend BOG rule 3.4 to comply with federal regulations that expanded the list of required drugs to be tested and to clarify and add certain drug-related prohibitions not already addressed.

In other Board action:

Approved new graduate certificate in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) in the School of Nursing
Approved new graduate certificate in Online Teaching in the College of Education and Human Services
Approved extension of the Special Emergency Leave Plan for an additional 90 days
The next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Feb. 19, 2021.

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