MORGANTOWN – Some WVU alumni gathered downtown – and remotely via Zoom – late Wednesday afternoon to contribute to an ongoing discussion about WVU’s future.
The meeting at First Presbyterian Church coincidentally occurred shortly after WVU faculty voted overwhelmingly in support of resolutions expressing no confidence in President Gordon Gee and calling for a freeze on the Academic Transformation process.
And while speakers at the meeting – put on by Create West Virginia – aired disappointment with the transformation process, the overall intent was to gather positive ideas to present to the administration and the Board of Governors. This was the last of a series of meetings held at various locations across the state.
Create West Virginia founding member Rebecca Kimmons co-led the meeting and explained that the organization was founded in 2007 to foster creativity and innovation in the state, to help foster the state’s innovation economy.
She said before the meeting they would like to see collaborative leadership at WVU. “We feel collaborative leadership is the best kind of leadership.” That means a willingness to listen to and share ideas, she said. “I think the flagship university needs to lead in innovation. It needs to lead in teaching leadership throughout the state.”
WVU should be deeply involved in community life and in informing prospective students what they need for the future as early as elementary school, she said. “I think we need an opening here, rather than a closing.”
Create West Virginia Executive Director Corey Zinn said, “We’re hoping to inspire a little bit, in a time of fear.”
Carl Irwin, a retired professor who spent 50 years at WVU, said “I think creativity is the way we move forward.” He helped create WVU’s TransTech Energy program and said WVU needs to foster research and incentivize its commercialization. The transformation process has been uniformly depressing for everyone, he said, and WVU should find ways to inspire and excite people instead, like build research partnerships with West Virginia companies.
His wife, Gertraud Irwin, was born in Germany and taught German and English at Morgantown High, She created an exchange program with her hometown in Germany. She was among those who expressed dismay with the dismantling of the foreign languages department at WVU. “I was so shocked.” Foreign languages build connections and help people embrace the whole world, she said.
David Mitchell, a 1971 graduate in electrical engineering who moved into leadership positions at businesses across the region, said, “My concern is WVU is still looking inward.” Since the university receives only a small percentage of its funds from the state, he suggested, why not take it private? “That would break the mold, if we were able to do that.”
Lynn Sobolov, who ran Morgantown’s Kaleidoscope after-school program for 12 years and is now an independent education consultant, said the transformation could spur people to leave the state. “If there’s an exodus, the economic base of the region will be decimated.” She is among those who now refuse to donate to WVU while it is on this course.
Law school alumnus Robin Godfrey said the state government should be doing its job by providing more money for its flagship university. And the BOG should be actually governing – exploring opportunities for growth, not cutting. He also criticized Gee and the administration for not making sacrifices of their own, such as taking symbolic reductions in salaries.
Kimmons said the group’s plan is to compile all the comments and submit a preliminary report to Gee and the BOG via email. They want to submit it by Friday in advance of the BOG’s Sept. 15 meeting, where it will vote on final program review recommendations from the provost’s office, in order to give all ample time to review.
She also told meeting attendees that this will be just a preliminary report. “This is just the beginning.”