From her corner office on Stewart Hall’s second floor, Michele G. Wheatly looks out at the crossroads of West Virginia University: the Mountainlair student center to one side, iconic Woodburn Hall, home of the school’s largest college, to the other.
What better perspective for the person newly charged with leading the academic mission of a major land grant research university?
Wheatly believes it was meant to be.
“I feel that WVU chose me,” Wheatly, 53, said in an interview. “I wasn’t on the job market, but when the search committee approached me, I found this was an amazing opportunity and I just couldn’t refuse it.
“So, we found each other, I guess you could say.”
Wheatly assumed office on Dec. 30 but has been preparing to take this step since her Sept. 16 appointment.
“I’m a great believer in homework and planning,” she acknowledged, “and so in the fall I spent probably about half of my time over here on campus getting to know the landscape. I’m talking about the academic landscape and geography of Morgantown, visiting most of the deans in their colleges, on their own turf, and getting to understand the major issues and culture of this institution.
“I wanted to be able to hit the ground running at the first of the year,” she said.
And she needed to as President James P. Clements has given her two major assignments to begin her tenure: academic strategic planning for a new decade and finding deans for two of the University’s highest profile colleges: the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Business and Economics.
Oh, and don’t forget Clements’ goal of hiring a hundred additional faculty members over the next few years.
“We have planning on our minds,” she said.
Those new leadership positions offer “an unprecedented opportunity,” she believes.
“Academic leadership is everything when you think about the success of an institution,” she said.
“I think we have an opportunity to hire in outstanding faculty, to re-imagine the economic future of this state and start to increase educational attainment and improve rural health care and quality of life in West Virginia, and to also define clustered research areas where we can become global leaders,” she said.
“At the heart of a university are the discoveries and education of the thinkers of tomorrow. I feel very blessed that I’ll be in a position to facilitate both of those activities as we move this institution ahead.”
As new deans and new faculty are recruited and hired, “we are going to want to accomplish a number of objectives,” she said.
“There will be a balance of looking at the research goals, which will be to accelerate the research agenda of this institution, which will probably involve hiring clusters of faculty in targeted areas that will be a good match with discoveries necessary to fuel economic development in the state of West Virginia.
“But at the same time remember, one of our other significant goals is to educate the future thinkers and workers in this great state,” she said. “So we will really need to look at where we have significant enrollment pressures, areas that have grown, where we need to simply put more faculty in classrooms.
“So I think what we’ll be doing in the initial planning is to work with the deans to figure out how we can best utilize those positions to achieve those two major objectives.”
There is another important consideration in play, she said.
“At the same time, of course, we’re wanting to achieve diversity goals, so as we go to recruit the faculty of the future we have to make sure that we are going to hire in a faculty who are reflective of the changing demographies across the United States so we can make really make gains in those areas also.”
Wheatly, a native of London, England, arrives at WVU after successful stints at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and, previously, at the University of Florida and the University of Calgary. She earned a doctorate at the University of Birmingham in the UK.
“I’ve had a very traditional trajectory towards the position of provost at a leading land grant institution” she said.
“I built my academic career around biomedical research. I’m a comparative physiologist. ? I ascended the academic ranks much like any other faculty member, making my way through the ranks with a portfolio that blended a significant commitment to research with teaching undergraduates and training graduate students.
“I was very fortunate to have some early opportunities in administration, it was something that I liked, and then I became a chair of my department, which was biological sciences, and then subsequently became dean of a college of science and mathematics.”
Now, she is excited to be at WVU, which she describes as an institution wanting “to head somewhere fast,” and to have the opportunity to help the University achieve that goal.
And as for her family – she will be joined in Morgantown by her husband, Stan, and 16-year-old twin daughters, Reva and Mari (son Skip, 18, will complete the academic year at Wright State): “They’re going to get to realize that they were really born to become Mountaineers.”
By John A. Bolt
WVU News and Information Services
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