Lamkin reflects on time as West Virginia University at Parkersburg’s president as last day nears
PARKERSBURG — For all that has been accomplished at West Virginia University at Parkersburg in almost three years, outgoing President Fletcher Lamkin said all he did was “guide” the boat.
It was the employees who came up with the ideas to improve services and better control finances that have put the institution on solid footing, he said.
Lamkin announced his resignation in October. He will become president of Westminster College at Fulton, Mo., where he previously served as president from 2000-2007. His last day at WVU-P will be Wednesday.
Lamkin, a graduate of West Point, rose to the rank of brigadier general and served 36 years in the U.S. Army. He also served as the dean of the academic board at West Point, which he said prepared him for the job of being a college president.
He started at Westminster shortly after retiring from the Army. He worked for seven years and helped turn that college around.
Lamkin recently was contacted by Westminster and was told it needed his help again.
“Things are going so well here at WVU-P, I have basically made myself essentially irrelevant,” Lamkin said with a laugh. “I have such good vice presidents here, such a good team on board and a terrific board of governors.”
Lamkin was named WVU-P president in 2015, following the departure of Marie Foster Gnage. During his time, the college implemented numerous programs to increase student success and approved the first employee pay raises in many years. He also helped cut expenses at the college so it could weather state budget cuts implemented over the last couple of years.
He also helped bring about the new Student Services Center which was completed in March 2016. The facility, which was planned by Anthony Underwood, vice president of the Center for Student Services, has been described by university officials as a “one-stop shop” for students to go to for a variety of administrative needs, financial aid, enrollment and other services.
The idea was to consolidate all student services into one central location to save students time. The center has reduced the process from a day to an hour and 45 minutes.
In looking back at his time at the university, Lamkin said it has been “a terrific team effort.”
“All I did was guide the ship,” he said. “It was the faculty, staff, vice presidents and academic division chairs that actually did the work and the heavy lifting.
“And there was a lot of heavy lifting.”
In coming to the college, Lamkin wanted to better align WVU-P with WVU in Morgantown so students can get certain courses locally that can easily transfer to the university in Morgantown. WVU-P has implemented over 100 changes to the curriculum and established 25 “2+2 Programs” where students can come to WVU-P and transfer after two years and basically have 60 credits to go at WVU, where they can end up saving over $25,000.
The faculty instituted those changes, without complaint, and now students are benefiting from that, because it was the right thing to do, Lamkin said.
Lamkin’s philosophy is a student needs to know where they are and where they are going and what is at the end and what they need to do to accomplish that.
The program, Guided Pathways, addressed those concerns. Students are counseled and brought into a cluster of majors that will help them narrow down to their eventual major.
The retention rate is up 15 percent over what it was.
In addition to those changes, the university had to get its financing and budgeting in order. Lamkin credits Alice Harris, vice president of finance and administration, with creating a disciplined budgeting and purchasing process.
“We have saved millions of dollars out of our expenditures at the same time the appropriations have been cut,” Lamkin said. “We have been able to stay ahead of the power curve and for the last two years we have operated at a surplus of over $1 million.”
Through operating more efficiently, the school has been able to afford maintenance, replacing air conditioning units and the roof.
The school has one of the lowest tuitions in the state.
Many people on staff, on faculty and in the college’s administration contributed to this.
“All I have done is guide the ship,” Lamkin said. “It is really all of these other people.”
With so much already in place, Lamkin believes he can step down and someone who knows all of the programs at the college can step in and take over.
The Board of Governors have selected Jane Milley, who previously served as interim senior vice president for academic affairs from April 2015 to April 2016, as interim president for the college beginning Thursday. A search committee will be created and a new president is expected to be chosen next spring.
“She and I worked very closely for my first year here,” Lamkin said of Milley. “She is the architect of many of the academic changes that were made and she understands them. She is the perfect person to step in as an interim.”
One might ask Lamkin why he continues to work.
In 1964, he graduated in a class of 550 from West Point. During his time there, he got to know many of those classmates. Of those, 25 were killed in Vietnam. Lamkin went to Vietnam and had his share of harrowing experiences, but he came back.
He decided that he would spend the rest of his life doing something to honor those who didn’t come back.
“As long as I have something left, I am going to keep working and contribute,” he said.
That spirit led him to Parkersburg and now it will lead him back to Missouri.
“I still feel like I have something important to contribute and that is what drives me,” he said.
When Lamkin and his wife Cindy are back in Missouri and he thinks about his time in Parkersburg, he will have fond memories of his time here.
“I will remember a wonderful community,” he said. “The people really welcomed us here.”
The Lamkins have served as Grand Marshals for the Easter Parade their first year and he was impressed with how the community turned out. He has given a number of speeches, especially for Veterans Day, and he was always impressed with how attentive people were here.
“People here love their country and love their community,” Lamkin said. “The thing I will remember the most and cherish the most are the memories of a really wonderful group of people who have created something really special here.”