The wisdom of the past, especially as articulated by Abraham Lincoln, provides a guidepost for the future, especially for the land-grant universities he signed into law, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee said Monday (Oct. 14) in his annual State of the University address.
Weaving the 16th president’s words throughout his speech, Gee recounted his five years at WVU’s helm and looked to the future, approaching it, as Lincoln said, “one day at a time, one step at a time, one hard decision at a time.”
“We must reject the relentless pursuit of money and prestige, chasing rankings that we know are deeply flawed, at the expense of genuine educational excellence,” Gee said. “Only six out of 50 flagship universities are affordable for most students, according to a recent Institute for Higher Education Policy report.”
Gee’s criticism of the rankings race was just one of the issues he identified as threatening the future of higher education.
Lincoln would remind us that our unique strengths drive the quality of our work, Gee said. And that means transforming higher education from its tradition-heavy structure, then imagine the world 20 years in the future and reverse engineer the present. He also called on the need for younger faculty members, staff members and administrators.
“I know that younger people bring fresh perspectives to the table, and in the noble task of diversifying our institutions, we should seek wide generational diversity,” Gee said.
And he said that while elite academic institutions are focused on cutting-edge research, they turn away all but the most privileged and reimagine themselves as global enterprises. Gee said land-grant universities can give the country what it needs right now.
“At West Virginia University, however, purpose has been our polar star, guiding us upward over the past five years, ever closer to the pinnace of excellence,” he said.
Gee then handed over the podium to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed who said WVU has always been “a scrappy and resourceful institution that finds opportunities where others see challenges.”
Reed said her leadership team in conjunction with Gee’s, has established categorized priorities for the coming year:
• Developing a program to seed and support new academic programs that are highly relevant and market-driving and that will bring new students to the University. The initial focus will be undergraduate programs delivered in a classroom or online, as demand increases for digital learning opportunities.
• Enhancing WVU’s academic reputation by increasing the number students enrolled in Ph.D. programs, while developing self-supporting master’s degree programs that provide students with in-demand professional skills and expertise. Reed said the University will focus on research areas such as artificial intelligence, energy and sustainability, food access, workforce development and solutions for healthy aging.
• Maintaining a strong financial bottom line, which is critical to WVU’s success, through student retention. Reed said her office will set forth a series of strategic actions designed to increase student retention and persistence, aimed at increasing revenue. Working with units such as Student Life, Financial Aid and the Carruth Center and WVU Medicine, Reed said the strategic actions will strengthen support structures that enable all students, including first-year freshmen, transfer and non-traditional students, to be successful.
• Strengthening relationships by working with the Faculty Senate to review evaluation and promotion policies and processes to ensure WVU recognizes and rewards faculty who pursue a variety of pathways in teaching, research, innovation and engaged outreach that…is vital to our land-grant mission.
“[W]e will only be able to meet our challenges and capitalize on our opportunities if we work together with a shared sense of mission and purpose, and through honest, open and respectful dialogue,” Reed said. “We are all responsible for shaping the culture and making WVU a warm and welcoming community, as well as a place of purpose that is positions for future growth and opportunity.”
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