WVU President Jim Clements reports on a milestone year; promises strong action in wake of "inexcusable" behavior
The West Virginia University faculty gathers annually at this time of year to hear about the school’s accomplishments, but today President Jim Clements started with a different message, one that did not highlight a proud moment.
“The worst of the post-game behavior Saturday night was completely unacceptable, dangerous and inexcusable,” Clements said. “We cannot and will not tolerate it. These actions are dangerous. And, they diminish the successes of our students, faculty, staff and alumni.”
Following the football team’s victory over the University of Texas on Saturday, a crowd of about 1,000 people gathered in the student-dominated Sunnyside area of Morgantown, dozens of fires were set and police and firefighters were pelted with bricks and bottles.
“I am angry and frustrated,” he said. “I want you to know, the University is taking immediate action to identify and discipline any students involved. Student Affairs is moving promptly and resolutely to investigate the problems that happened Saturday night, and will take immediate and strong actions within our disciplinary process. And, as a University, we are asking anyone with any information – including pictures and recordings – to provide those to the WVU Police.
“We are serious about addressing this problem,” he said, noting that in the last year 40 WVU students had been expelled or suspended, and numerous others sanctioned for behavior violations.
Clements promised the University would “take a hard line on this kind of behavior,” increasing efforts in alcohol education and enforcement, increasing security presence and use of surveillance cameras and strengthening expulsion and student discipline policies.
Clements then turned to the achievements of the past year, one he said was marked by many game-changing milestones.
Clements reminded the Faculty Assembly of the year that was: The 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act; record-breaking private giving research achievements; enrollment records consistent with the 2020 Strategic Plan for the Future additions to WVU’s legacy of national and international scholars; continued recognition for Morgantown and WVU in national rankings; and a grand entrance into the Big 12 powerhouse academic and athletic conference.
“This reasserts who we are as Mountaineers,” Clements said. “We strive to be the best at everything we do — and we do it with the highest level of quality, nothing less.”
The speech marked Clements’ fourth State of the University address. Borrowing from a Mahatma Gandhi quote, Clements explained how students, faculty, staff and the University community are being the change they want to see in the world.
WVU itself will aid in that change with new initiatives, Clements said.
In academics, a new program will support students who have not yet declared a major. Called “The University College,” this new unit will be an academic home for pre-majors, general studies students and non-traditional students. These students will receive structured and coordinated academic services that will empower them to succeed and help them make the transition into major programs, Clements said.
Other initiatives discussed by the president support recommendations put forth in a National Research Council report, which recommends specific actions related to research universities and their role in prosperity and security – actions that include partnerships between business and academia, increasing cost-effectiveness, reforming graduate education and raising access and diversity in the STEM disciplines.
The report calls for increasing university cost-effectiveness and productivity to provide a greater return on investment for taxpayers, philanthropists, corporations, foundations and other research sponsors.
“The message is clear: People want accountability and stewardship from higher education,” Clements said. “We have instituted a website for cost saving ideas, and we have already generated $12.4 million a year through a combination of cuts and revenue-generation.”
The NRC report comes on the heels of WVU’s successful adaption of recommendations from a 2007 National Academies Committee report titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” The report called for:
- Improving K-12 Science and Math Education.
- Investing in Science and Engineering Research and keeping the “Best and Brightest” in Higher Education Research. And,
- Promoting innovation.
“At WVU, we heard their call,” Clements said. “We put faculty innovation front and center in our strategic plan to enhance educational delivery and create a more vibrant research enterprise.”
Mountains of Excellence
Clements also discussed the “Mountains of Excellence” initiative. Recently, the academic deans defined “Mountains of Excellence” for strategic investment in research areas where they see potential for growth and substantial return on the University’s investment.
The initial “Mountains of Excellence” are:
- Achieving international leadership in radio astronomy
- Utilizing shale gas
- Promoting stewardship of water resources
- Improving STEM education and scientific literacy
- Eliminating health disparities in Appalachia
“All these areas are existing strengths at WVU,” Clements said. “All of them address significant challenges facing society — and our land-grant mission demands that we are a part of addressing exactly such challenges.
“And all of these are interdisciplinary with great potential for teamwork and collaboration across departments and colleges.”
In line with the University’s commitment to the new “Mountains of Excellence” initiative, WVU will add faculty positions across campus, Clements said.
These new positions will include:
- One in physics and one in the Lane Department of Computer Science & Electrical Engineering to raise the radio astronomy program to higher international leadership.
- Seven faculty positions in shale gas utilization.
- Three new faculty positions to strengthen the existing clean water research team.
- Four faculty positions in education, science and technology to bolster STEM education involvement at the state and national levels.
- Four faculty positions established across multiple colleges to advance awareness and understanding of health and exercise.
- The Research Office will restore a leadership position with an assistant vice president for scholarly and creative activity, to focus exclusively on helping arts, humanities and social science faculty maximize creative and scholarly activity.
WVU has commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act through a series of events stretching from fall 2011 to now.
When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law, the legislation ended an era when only the wealthy and the privileged could pursue higher education.
The Act paved the way for the establishment of WVU. In its early years, WVU helped students build practical skills that were needed in the America of the 1800s, mainly in farming and mechanics, Clements said.
“Today, we are helping students build the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century world,” he said. “Following through on our dedication to the land-grant mission, we still — more than ever before — apply knowledge and educate the next generation in nearly every field of human endeavor to improve lives in West Virginia, our region, our nation, and our world.”
Former Interim WVU President C. Peter Magrath, a leading land-grant authority, kicked off the University’s year-long celebration of the Morrill Act last fall.
Most notably this past summer, WVU was honored with an invitation to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. That Festival centered around a commemoration of the Morrill Act and the role land-grant universities, such as WVU, have played across every state in the U.S.
WVU’s Steel Drum Band performed at the Festival, showing that the University’s lasting impact on the arts is a strong and emblematic symbol of our land-grant mission.
A Healthy University = A Healthy State
The year also saw several health initiatives that not only enhance the learning environments of students and faculty, but also benefit the overall well-being of the state, the president added.
In addressing Appalachian health disparities, the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute received a $19.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to address the health issues that most commonly affect West Virginians. Other state educational and health care entities have committed $33.5 million to the Institute, for a total of $53.1 million over the next five years.
This project involves not only each of the Health Sciences schools: Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Public Health, but also the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources College of Human Resources and Education Business and Economics and P.I. Reed School of Journalism.
“The Institute is one of our greatest accomplishments, in the history of WVU Health Sciences and WVU itself.” Clements said. “It will save lives and provide West Virginia residents with real solutions for our biggest health problems.”
State of Minds
Still, there is work to be done, Clements said.
Fulfilling the “State of Minds” campaign is critical to WVU’s future health, he added.
“The goal for this campaign, being led by the WVU Foundation, is ambitious but necessary for our future success: $750 million dollars – which is triple the goal of the last campaign – but it is necessary for our success,” Clements said. “I am confident that the Mountaineer family will once again pull through and push us beyond the finish line.”
The Change Agents
Clements offered further proof that WVU is enacting change in the world – proof in the form of students, faculty and staff.
White has a goal that’s rather unique — to spend at least three weeks on all seven continents by the time he’s 25.
He’s off to a good start. He’s already spent time and studied abroad in China, Kenya and Russia. He’s even served as an English and math teacher in Moscow.
Yes. He’s only a sophomore, and he’s already making change to the world.
“Step by step, project by project, we at WVU are changing the world,” Clements said. “And we do it most powerfully by preparing students like Cody to be the change the world needs.
“Many of you have heard the famous words Mahatma Gandhi said about making a difference: ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world,’” Clements continued. “It’s evident, our WVU students want to be that change-and with the knowledge and mentoring that you, our faculty and staff, are giving them-they are becoming the change.”
With innovative faculty members leading the way, they help turn curiosity into discovery every day on campus, Clements said.
Amy Hessl is just one example. The associate professor of geography went into the forests of Mongolia a few years ago to study wildfires. Hessl and her team collected wood samples and made an incredible discovery. Those wood samples dated back 1,300 years to the time of Genghis Khan.
Their research uncovered that the rainy climate from that period could have been a key factor in the expansion of Khan’s empire.
Since that expedition in 2010, Hessl has returned to Mongolia with the help of National Geographic funding. Her work has also been featured in Science magazine.
“Dr. Hessl calls her find one in a million,” Clements said. “But she is also one in a million.
“Like other WVU faculty from all fields and all disciplines, Dr. Hessl nurtures the seeds of curiosity that bloom into innovation.”
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