WVU News

Gee offers vision for WVU moving forward during State of the University Address; students, faculty counter at downtown campus rally

MORGANTOWN – WVU President Gordon Gee outlined his vision on Monday of moving beyond the current turmoil to forge a “modern land grant university.”

Right after his State of the University Address, held at the Erickson Alumni Center, a rebuttal of sorts took place in front of the Mountainlair, organized by the West Virginia United Students’ Union.

The first portion of Gee’s address trod familiar ground: Academic Transformation, the program cuts and faculty layoffs.

“The past few months have had a deep impact on our campus community,” he said. “We have experienced intense emotions ranging from anger to great sadness. … I am keenly aware of the cost this process has come to bear. … Collectively, I know and trust we will find a way to move forward together.”

Gee moved on to review some of WVU’s accomplishments. Among them, more school of dentistry students have chosen to stay and work in the state: 41% in 2023 compared to 19% in 2022. And WVU was the driver in the successful selection of the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub as one of seven national hubs.

WVU must move beyond the current nationwide lack of confidence in the value of higher education, he said. Becoming “the modern land grant university” means respecting WVU’s origins while recognizing that needs have changed, new external forces are bearing down and society has evolved.

Matthew Kolb speaks in front of the Mountainlair.

“We will serve as the great connector, building partnerships that drive industry, education and public sector growth, and we will create the great public square” for safe civil discourse.

WVU will have four priorities, he said: expanding access to education by improving recruitment and retention, advancing the R1 research mission to solve real-world problems, grow the academic medical center to improve public health and remain the state’s economic engine by partnering with industry.

To reach those goals, among other things, WVU will continue to review and improve its academic portfolio. “We will create the programs our students want and our communities need.”

While four-year graduation rates have grown, 45% of graduates leave with no debt and WVU wants to improve that figure. And WVU wants to create a pipeline to employment, particularly for healthcare.

While WVU has frequently been compared, often negatively, with other universities during the current turmoil, Gee said, “The only competition we have is with ourselves. … If we have the will, we can become the modern land grant university that our state and country needs. It will take all of us, individually and collectively. … You must decide if you believe in the future of West Virginia University.”

During a media Q&A afterward, The Dominion Post asked Gee how he envisions moving the WVU community beyond its troubles to rally around the vision.

He said, “We all have to recommit ourselves to the university.” The university exists for the students. And the senior leaders and faculty have to work toward a common aspiration. “We have a unique opportunity to reinvent the university that very few people have. And if we buy into that notion, we’ll be much better for it. I am a strong believer that we are on the cutting edge of what’s going to happen in higher education.”

The rebuttal

Matthew Kolb, a senior undergraduate math major and WVUSU Assembly of Delegates president, called the rally in front of the Mountainlair the first annual People’s State of the University Address, co-organized by West Virginia Campus Workers.

“The state of the university today is disarray,” he said.

“We the people who actually keep the gears of the university turning have had to sit by and watch as those overpaid administrators who are running this school into the mud throw our colleagues, our friends and our families under the bus,” he said.

Administrators refuse to acknowledge the increased debt spurred by capital projects and the high administrative salaries that have helped create the current problems and cuts, he said. “These eliminations are a whip to frighten and discipline the remaining workforce. … No position is secure, no person is safe.”

Kolb and subsequent speakers referred frequently to the elimination of the World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics Department.

World Languages professor Lisa DiBartilmeo, a WVU alumna, talked about the consequences of all the program cuts, particularly hers, for the university, the community and the state.

“Fellow Mountaineers, the state of our university is diminished,” she said. The university belongs to the students, faculty and staff who run it, and to the state’s residents.

“Maybe you could decide to stay,” she said. ‘But why would you? Because there’s no future for you here. None of us has had a say in what’s being done to our university.” The outcome was predetermined and opposition voices were ignored. “West Virginia needs all of us. … These cuts are too deep.”

And they won’t make a dent in the university debt, she said. Meanwhile, administrators have made no effort at even token pay cuts. “If you feel trapped or betrayed or angry or sad, or all of those things, then raise your voice.”

Email: dbeard@dominionpost.com