Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 29, 2014

WVU President Gee visits Bluefield Daily Telegraph editorial board

BLUEFIELD — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee visited Bluefield last week during his summer tour of all 55 counties in the Mountain State. By the time he reached Mercer County on Thursday afternoon, Gee had visited with people in 31 counties — not counting the ones he might have passed through on his way from Monongalia to Mercer.

This marks Gee’s second go-round at the helm of WVU — always with his trademark bow tie and smile, and often-edgy wit that hasn’t always served him well in the ivy-covered halls of high pedigree academia.

The much-traveled Gee — the E. stands for Elwood — previously served as president at WVU from 1981-’85, before heading to Colorado. In 2010, when Gee was in his second term as president of Ohio University, Time named Gee one of the nation’s top 10 university presidents. He retired from OSU under a hailstorm of criticism after he made anti-Catholic comments. WVU welcomed him back in December 2013, and swore him in March 3, as the university’s 24th permanent president.

“This is a special state,” Gee said during an abbreviated editorial board session at the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. He said that he wanted to stop in Mercer County to meet with Dr. Marsha Krotseng, president of Bluefield State College. “I want to keep our talented students here in West Virginia,” he said.

Gee said he is excited to be back in Morgantown. “I’m very blessed to be in a wonderful city,” he said. He noted that in 1981 when he started his first presidency at WVU, the university boasted of 18,000 students, but now, the number of students has grown to 33,000 students. “I’d like to see it grow to 40,000 students,” but he admitted that growth in Morgantown has its challenges.

“We have two campuses now that are separated by one of these beautiful hills,” Gee said. “I should know. I live on top of it.” He admitted that highway infrastructure can be frustrating, but said WVU’s Personal Rapid Transit system will be receiving grants to undertake a $180 million upgrade. “If we had to replace the PRT with buses, it would add to the over-crowding on the streets.” Still, Gee said he is honored to be the president of WVU, which he pointed out is “the greatest business creator in the state.”

Although he had the ringer on his smart phone cut off, Gee — who was flanked at the Telegraph board table by Becky Lofstead, assistant vice president, University Communications and Sharon L. Martin, vice president of University Relations — said that many of his college associates are concerned about the boom cycle of electronic communications and the explosion in social media.

“If you’re counting on the old structure to pull you through, that’s like putting old wine in old bottles,” Gee said. In terms of keeping pace with technology and innovation, Gee said: “We’ve got to be ahead of the curve. We have to be out front.” Gee said that parents of a student who compare the cost of online courses to on-campus residency can easily see the difference, but there are other intrinsic values related to on the campus experience, “like Mountaineer football,” Gee said with a smile.

Gee said that educators on the university level need to “think differently” about education. He said that the pre-kindergarten through life should prepare students for their futures, but “higher education should be about jobs and opportunity,” he said. “Our number one responsibility is to create jobs for West Virginians.”

WVU’s advantage as being one of the 70 land grant universities out of 4,500 universities in the U.S., has the advantage of being both a teaching and a research institution. He said that during his earlier stay in Morgantown as well as on his return that “there is a fierce loyalty,” in the people of West Virginia that he readily embraces. He said that the late James H. “Buck” Harless, “one of my best friends,” was eager to show him (Gee) about how he overcame the challenges of Mingo County’s remote location by using interactive technology to link the Larry Joe Harless Center clinic with top medical professionals worldwide.

“I really wanted to take this tour of the 55 counties to look, listen and hear what people have to say,” he said. “You have to get out to see that. I’m doing that this summer and I’ll do it every year. I want to make sure we’re willing to connect and converse.”

Although he’s tech savvy, Gee said he’s still old school. “I read all my books on an iPad, but I also have the hard copies,” he said. “Online, you can scan it fast.”

The Mountaineer Michael Garcia, and others from WVU traveled with Gee during his stop in Mercer County.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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