As it strives to expand support for and recognition of its academic and research programs and its presence in Washington, D.C., West Virginia University is strengthening its efforts in the nation’s capital, appointing Richard V. French, a former director of strategic planning at the U.S. Department of Labor, as director of external and federal relations.
French will join Mary E. Bowman, former coordinator of legislative affairs, who is assuming the parallel position of director of federal research relations, as WVU’s representatives in Washington.
The appointments, which are effective immediately, were announced Wednesday (Sept. 19) by WVU Chief of Staff Jay Cole and Interim Vice President for Research and Economic Development Fred King. French will report jointly to Cole and King; Bowman will continue to report to King. The two positions complement one another and provide fuller coverage for WVU in Washington.
“It is essential for WVU to have a strong presence in Washington to advance its national agenda and interests,” Cole said. “From informing policymaking to competing for grants, WVU has a great deal to offer at the national level.”
“Mary has been the lone voice, eyes and ears for WVU in Washington for several years,” King said. “Her dedication and effort have benefited our research programs enormously, but as a major, land-grant research institution, it’s imperative that we increase our presence in Washington.
“We need to cover more bases than we can with one person. We have excellent representation on the Hill and with key agencies through Mary Bowman, but the job has grown beyond what one person can handle as federal budgets have become tighter and opportunities more difficult to secure.”
King added, “Rick French complements Mary’s work by bringing in executive branch experience and focus on areas beyond research, something we’ve never had,” King said. “Many of our peers have multi-person staffs on the ground to make their case, and we’re just catching up.”
French, a native of Beckley, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from WVU in 1988 and a master of public administration in December 1989. He has served in several high-level leadership positions in the Department of Labor since 1990. Prior to that, he worked in the offices of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va. He has also served the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences as a member and chair of its visiting committee.
Bowman will increase her work as liaison with the federal agencies supporting research as well as the legislative branch.
She came to WVU in 2005 from Washington, where she had been practicing law with a general litigation firm. She earned a bachelors degree in religious studies and history from Wheeling Jesuit University and a law degree from WVU.
“To raise our national profile, Rick will serve as the primary liaison to the federal executive branch and will cultivate close working relationships with officials in a wide variety of federal and non-governmental departments, agencies, units and offices,” Cole said. “This includes organizations such as the National Academies and think tanks such as Brookings and RAND.”
Dean Robert Jones, who leads WVU’s largest college which includes several research-intensive disciplines, said, “Opportunities to partner with federal agencies and seek competitive federal research funding abound, and will continue to be a major part of WVU’s portfolio, even if anticipated federal budget cuts are implemented. But it will be increasingly difficult to find opportunities without experienced professionals who have developed a network of contacts in federal agencies and congress.
“Therefore, this position is critically important, and will pay dividends many times greater than the investment that WVU makes in it,” he said.
“I am very excited to serve West Virginia University in the nation’s capital,” French said. “The possibilities are endless and I hope to play a small part in continuing to move WVU forward on a national scale.”
“Rick’s appointment will provide WVU with the kind of thorough federal relations strategy required in today’s constrained, highly competitive environment,” Cole said.
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