Op-ed: West Virginia University is fully engaged with state
In 1986 I had the good fortune “to come home again” when I returned to my home state and home town to become the 20th President of West Virginia University. In spite of Thomas Wolfe’s warning this opportunity proved to be the most fulfilling experience in my academic and administrative career.
I re-discovered the secret to WVU’s success. That secret was simple and yet profound. The secret had become obvious to many citizens of West Virginia: their University was fully engaged with the needs and future of the State and that of the sons and daughters of the State.
The key to being fully engaged is a straight forward formula with three components. The first element is academic excellence measured by the scholarship and teaching skills of its faculty and staff. Element two is a dedication to applied insight. This component reflects the understanding that knowledge is truly useful when it is used to improve the human condition. The third element in this formula is a commitment to service. This commitment is realized when it is a basic and key value of the institution and its members.
In summary, the secret of 150 years of success at WVU is that it develops a base of academic excellence which it expresses thru applied insight in order to serve the needs and aspirations of the State and its citizens. This is WVU being fully engaged with the State and its future.
I think it would be useful to share a few examples of this engagement that occurred during the decade I served as the president of the University. That time frame was 3 decades ago. The examples may seem dated but they were vital and even controversial at that time.
One example was in the area of health. The health impact of tobacco usage was becoming a topic of national discussion. The WVU Health Sciences Center took a national leadership position in sharing the most current research on tobacco usage and its impact. That message was not always welcomed by state citizens and businesses. I can vividly remember the push back when the University and its health care leaders persisted with one of the nation’s first calibrated warnings about the dangers of second hand smoke. There is no doubt in my mind that this example of full engagement by WVU saved lives and improved the health environment for West Virginia families. This same level of engagement by the WVU Health Sciences Center in the area of opioid abuse is a current example of the University’s continuing commitment to be fully engaged with the State and its needs.
Another example of full engagement some three decades ago was related to the economic structure of the State. The national and international economic scene was beginning to undergo very basic change. The economic revolution was not always well received news. For West Virginia it would mean a dramatic set of changes. Academic analysis by various units of the University family was pointing toward the need for diversification of the West Virginia economic structure if our state was to remain competitive in the new world economy. Although the message was not always welcomed the University understood it needed to be fully engaged in this economic change. WVU Extension and the Forestry program actively advocated the addition of “added value” industry. No longer was it sufficient to export our raw product so that other states could gain the economic value of stage two use of that product. The College of Engineering engaged the State with academically sound information about new ways to use our products in ways that were both environmentally and economically advantageous. The College of Business and Economics through its Bureau of Business and Economic Research enhanced the use of objective economic indicators to guide decision making and strategic choices for West Virginia businesses.
It was the beginning of a New Economy around the globe and WVU helped the State by becoming fully engaged in this change that is unfolding yet today.
On this 150th anniversary it is with great pride that I acknowledge the secret of success exhibited by West Virginia University. We are all fortunate to have our Land Grant University fully engaged with the needs and future of our State and its people.