Plans for new and reimagined academic and athletics spaces, upgraded technology and an ongoing commitment to create a supportive campus environment for all at West Virginia University are moving forward despite the health, safety and fiscal challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WVU’s Board of Governors received updates during its regular meeting Friday (Sept. 18) outlining a number of capital projects, including:
- Hodges Hall renovation (anticipated completion, April 2021)
- Reynolds Hall construction (anticipated completion, April 2022)
- Athletics venues (including natatorium, coliseum and stadium)
- Updates to the University’s aging IT network technology
Additionally, the rockfall remediation project along Monongahela Blvd., which began earlier this year in collaboration with the West Virginia Division of Highways, is nearly complete.
Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop acknowledged the University is carefully weighing expenditures and other issues related to the budget, but asked for, and the Board authorized, a measure that would allow for reimbursement should it be necessary to issue bonds for projects in an amount not to exceed $20 million.
The WVU Foundation reported FY 2020 became its best year for fundraising at $197.8M. “Even in a pandemic – what a testament that is to momentum,” President and CEO Cindi Roth said. “This means the University can make the scholarship offers to attract the best and brightest and get them here.”
Roth underscored the importance of scholarships, including We Are Stronger Together, a special fundraising initiative launched by the Foundation this spring, providing more than $85,000 in support for students in need.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed explained that while overall enrollment is down 3%, graduate enrollment is up slightly, and enrollment in fully online programs is up 17%.
“Another positive is that our retention and persistence rates have increased from last year,” Reed said. “Our first-time freshmen retention is up more than 3%. And persistence across all levels is up by 1.3%.”
Reed attributed the increases, in part, to the adjustments the University has made to academic and financial aid policies during the pandemic, adding they also demonstrate that “our students really want to be here.”
WVU will re-evaluate the public health situation on Wednesday, Sept. 23 and advise whether on-campus learning will resume. If it is deemed safe to return, on-campus learning will begin again on Monday, Sept. 28.
Meanwhile, planning is under way for Spring 2021. Reed said registration will be delayed by two weeks and an announcement regarding the course schedule is expected later next month.
The University implemented an extensive COVID-19 testing protocol in July as part of its Return to Campus plan. Alsop noted that since July 20, WVU testing for students on the Morgantown campus has resulted in 498 positive tests. When combined with self-reported positive tests, a total of 911 positive test results has been recorded for students since July 20.
Faculty and staff testing on the Morgantown Campus during the same time period has resulted in a combined total of 17 positive results. “Since classes began Aug. 19, we have had only four faculty and staff positive cases,” Alsop said. “We are unaware of any positive results from a classroom exposure.”
Alsop also talked about continued Shared Services support in the testing and contact tracing process, as well as the close cooperation between WVU, the county health department, other county and local leaders and state leaders including Gov. Justice.
President Gordon Gee told the Board that while the University has dealt with some student conduct issues in recent weeks, he is proud of the vast majority of students who are doing the right things. He also thanked WVU faculty and staff for their dedication in delivering a high-quality academic experience.
“I also want to thank our families,” Gee said. “Our families have been very supportive of what we are trying to do.” He shared the concern he’s heard from parents and students about mental health challenges, many stemming from pandemic-enforced isolation.
Gee also highlighted the ongoing efforts to address critical and long-standing issues related to racism and inequality through Diversity Working Groups formed this summer.
“These action-oriented groups have been meeting since July, and they will soon release a full report and web site announcing their recommendations,” Gee said.
In addition to the groups’ recommendations, Gee outlined other initiatives already being implemented:
- A mentoring program for students of color that is a shared effort by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Athletics; RISE WVU; the LGBTQ+ Center; and Student Engagement & Leadership.
- Devoting this year’s Festival of Ideas lecture series to issues such as police reform, race relations in America and systemic racism. Details will be announced later this month.
He also called attention to Hazing Prevention Week beginning Sept. 20. “This is an excellent time to remember the heartbreaking toll hazing takes on young lives and their loved ones,” Gee said. He called on people to visit wouldyou.help to find resources for discussing these issues.
Other actions taken by the Board:
- Authorized the extension of the Special Emergency Leave Plan to further protect the health and well-being of WVU’s campus community in response to coronavirus COVID-19. The plan is meant to address concerns some faculty and staff may have about their leave and encourage them to stay home if they are sick. This plan also is designed to help minimize any potential financial hardships faculty and staff may face as a result of COVID-19.
- Approval of the West Virginia University Personal Rapid Transit System Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan to meet requirements of the Federal Transit Administration
- Ended specific academic programs for:
o Master of Science in Dental Hygiene
o Bachelor of Arts in World Languages, Literature, and Linguistics
o Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary (WVU Institute of Technology) WVUIT in Business, Humanities and Social Sciences
o Bachelor of Arts in Slavic and Eastern European Studies
Members also approved the appointment of Committees.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Nov. 6.
CONTACT: April Kaull, Executive Director of Communications
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