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Board of Governors receive updates, hear about student-focused future for Academic Transformation

The West Virginia University Board of Governors held its last meeting of 2021 Friday morning at the Erickson Alumni Center. 

The meeting began with a roll call, quickly followed by a motion to go into executive session to discuss, “deliberative matters involving commercial competition which, if made public, might adversely affect the financial or other interest of the University.”

After the executive session ended, the governors were addressed by Provost Maryanne Reed. She highlighted several positive developments for the university, including the first in-person December commencements since 2019 taking place today, as well as the development of the STEAM Technical Assistance Center and a School of Nursing campus opening in Bridgeport.

Reed’s statements then focused on the university’s progress in its Academic Transformation, “a process we began in January following President Gee’s charge that we transform our academic programming and practices to position our students at the University for success in a changing world,” she said.

She explained that the Academic Transformation would be a three year effort. In the first year, the priority was to “determine the viability of academic programs in the current portfolio.” The process that led to a controversial vote by the Board of Governors in November to deactivate 15 degree programs. 

A lack of transparency in this process was cited in the call for a failed vote of ‘no confidence’ in the university’s Faculty Senate earlier this month.

Reed said the process also identified eight to 10 Programs of Opportunity, “that we believe show the most immediate promise for future growth, with some additional investment, restructuring or rebranding, and we hope to be able to announce those in early spring.”

Priorities for the second year of the Academic Transformation will be announced in January. “One of those that we know, however, that we’re going to be tackling will be a ramped up focus on student success,” Reed said.

Much of the meeting then focused on a presentation of a “Student Success Roadmap update” by associate provost Evan Widders, PhD.

He highlighted several years of improved graduation rates at WVU, including reaching a target 62.5% six year graduation rate four years ahead of schedule.

“We’ve developed this momentum by modifying many of our academic practices and policies, and the goal of that has been to improve how students progress through their studies and reach graduation,” Widders said.

Those student-focused modifications will continue in the new year.

“Academic advising is the most significant remaining unaddressed issue for our students. As a result, the provost has added it to the Academic Transformation agenda for the next year,” Widders said.

President Gordon Gee closed out the meeting with his President’s Report, in which he expressed pride in “a truly rich, full academic experience on campus this semester.” He credited faculty, staff, and students for taking COVID-19 seriously for allowing such a semester to be possible.

Gee addressed the recent controversies surrounding the Academic Transformation head-on.

“The changes we are making are long needed and will have a positive impact on our institution as a whole. It’s pretty simple, we really are going to change or we’re going to die,” he said, before turning his attention to the effort’s next phase.

“Looking forward to 2022, I know that the university will face challenges. But we will also be poised to seize new opportunities…I look forward to all of us, faculty, staff, students, administrators, board members, working as one West Virginia University to achieve even greater success in the coming year,” Gee said.

The Board of Governors will meet again in the new year, on February 18, 2022.

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