A global pandemic, ongoing concerns about racial injustice and continued debate about the value and relevance of higher education in our daily lives set the virtual stage for West Virginia University President Gordon Gee’s annual State of the University address on Monday, Oct. 12.
“When I reflect on these past seven months, I am both humbled and heartened,” Gee said. “I am humbled because of the fact that our University has maneuvered through these tumultuous times with courage, grace and tenacity.”
Gee noted that he was heartened because while still learning how to live amid COVID-19, the work of faculty, staff and students in recent years to hone a culture of change earning a reputation as a place of purpose has prepared WVU to emerge stronger than ever.
He pointed to financial, social and emotional challenges – all intensified during the pandemic and especially acute for young people.
“How do we successfully confront these challenges that are buffeting us from so many directions? By celebrating what we do well, by learning from our mistakes and by daring to envision a bold new future,” Gee said.
In the era of COVID-19, a robust testing program, among other rigorous health and safety protocols, has enabled the University to provide an on-campus learning experience for freshman and graduate students this fall.
Gee also acknowledged the importance of partnerships.
“Morgantown, as we all know, is a college town – and with that comes a responsibility to our local community,” Gee said. “I recognize it has not always been easy – but I appreciate the diligence you have shown to making the semester successful and our community safe.”
That sense of safety must also extend to creating a culture free of racism, bias and social injustice. Gee’s remarks included examples of recommendations from “action-oriented” working groups developed this summer and fall.
The groups, consisting of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, focused on academics, campus environment, campus and community partnerships, development of Black leaders and University policing.
Among the groups’ initial recommendations:
- Create a Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit to assist faculty in understanding issues of diversity and inclusivity, along with a guide of resources and best practices for faculty instruction related to diversity topics.
- Implement a strategic recruitment plan for Black students and exploring partnerships with schools to create a pathway to the University.
- Adopt a “Principles of Community” statement to set expectations for students and employees as members of the University family and prominently include this statement in all advertisements and orientations.
- Create the WVU Public Safety Oversight and Engagement Committee to provide transparency, vision, guidance to, and oversight of the delivery of public safety services to the University.
- Increase funding and allocate additional resources to the WVU CARE Team which currently represents a collaborative of social services on campus to support the safety and wellbeing of students and the University community.
“I acknowledge, of course there is much work to be done, but let us move forward in hope that the actions we have taken — and those we will take – will bring us closer to becoming a more inclusive campus community,” Gee said.
A hub at presidentgee.wvu.edu houses detailed information about the working groups and will provide important updates on initial recommendations and subsequent initiatives. More details on the “action-oriented” working groups will be announced Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Despite ongoing crises, Gee observed the University has remained focused on the pillars of its land-grant mission—education, healthcare and prosperity in West Virginia.
Just last week, WVU announced a $25-million-dollar gift from Intuit executive Brad Smith and his wife, Alys. Through the newly named Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, the donation will provide initial funding for a remote worker program.
“This groundbreaking initiative, in partnership with the State, aims to leverage West Virginia’s outdoor assets to bring fresh talent to the Mountain State; it will also cultivate dynamic, purpose-driven communities, and fuel the entrepreneurial thinking of West Virginia,” Gee said.
Meanwhile, WVU received a record-breaking $195 million in external funding for research and other sponsored programs this past fiscal year. And Gee noted that the University’s long-time standing as a research leader in engineering and technology helped land the Hyperloop Certification Center. The project, also announced last week, creates an opportunity for WVU to lead a consortium of higher education institutions focusing on the future of transportation.
“Now, I know to the cynics of the world Hyperloop seems nothing short of science fiction. But I assure you, it is not,” Gee said.
“This will be a revolutionary advancement in transportation for our state and for our world. To have this forward-thinking Hyperloop project embedded in West Virginia will make an immense difference to both our economy and our psyche.”
In navigating today’s challenges and those to come, Gee concluded his address with a call to the WVU community to embrace its shared calling and fundamental mission.
“Let us move forward together in kindness, in shared purpose and in hope toward a better tomorrow,” Gee said.
CONTACT: April Kaull, Executive Director of Communications/University Relations
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