Members of West Virginia University’s Board of Governors today (Nov. 16) learned more about the University’s defined research areas plus a new college to support students who have not declared an academic major.

As part of the strategic planning process, the academic deans defined “Mountains of Excellence” for strategic investment in research areas where the potential for growth and substantial return on investment makes sense, Associate Provost for Academic Strategic Planning Nigel Clark told the panel.

Those initial areas – achieving international leadership in radio astronomy; utilizing shale gas; promoting stewardship of water resources; improving STEM education and scientific literacy; and addressing health disparities in Appalachia – are “existing strengths” at WVU, Clark said.

These areas address significant challenges facing society, are interdisciplinary in nature, with great potential for teamwork across departments and colleges, and nationally or internationally recognized, he added.

Interim Vice President for Research Fred King said the research office plans to ensure the success of these “mountains” through support for faculty – such as shared research facilities, grant writing workshops, additional graduate students and post doctoral fellows, aligning capital campaign funds with areas of emphasis, increasing recognition of faculty work and taking advantage of technology transfer opportunities, among other actions.

These measures should lead to growth in the National Academies (science, engineering and medicine), and an eventual Carnegie research ranking of “very high,” he said.

WVU will be investing in these five initial “mountains,” but not at the expense of other research across disciplines, he explained.

Associate Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Elizabeth Dooley outlined WVU’s newly proposed University College – a centralized support system/program to assist students who don’t have an academic major when they start college. This new unit will be an “academic home” for pre-majors, general studies students and nontraditional students, she said, and will be launched in July 2013.

Currently, some 6,000 students are serviced by the academic advising center, which will be replaced with this new centralized gateway, she added.

“It is our hope that these students will receive structured and coordinated academic services that will empower them to succeed and help them to make the transition into a major program,” Dooley said.

Academic and career advising will remain central components of the new college, but it will also encompass Blueprint for Student Success programs like the First-year Experience, Center for Civic Engagement, the Resident Faculty Leader program, summer transition entry program, McNair Scholars program, B.A. Pathways and others that contribute to student success.

Dooley will serve as dean, with the ultimate goal of fulfilling a key goal of the University’s 2020 planengaging students in a challenging academic environment – and ultimately raising graduation and retention rates. WVU’s rates are above the national average at 77.2 percent (retention) and 57 percent (graduation), but “we can do better,” she said.

“We want to build a campus culture that is more focused on completing degrees,” she noted.

Senior Associate Vice President for Finance Dan Durbin said the University’s financial status is stable and strong, as evidenced by a clean unqualified auditor’s opinion and no management letter. However, extraordinary events such as the athletic conference exit fee, retiree health insurance assessments and investments in key strategic areas such as students, facilities and employee compensation to support the 2020 plan have had an impact on the financial statements.

Future challenges in the University’s ability to stay financially stable, he said, include possible state budget cuts of 7.5 percent, or $12 million, and a trend toward fewer federal grants and contracts.

“It’s important that we keep future enrollment stable, and our pricing competitive,” he said.

In this report to the Board, WVU President Jim Clements noted two recent letters commending WVU staff for going over and beyond the call of duty: PRT staffers who reunited a lost special needs son with his family on a football game day and a Housing staff member and her husband who drove to Pennsylvania to retrieve a student who was stranded by the recent storm.

“These examples underscore the great faculty and staff who work here,” he said.

BOG Chairman Drew Payne also recognized Clements for his recent election as secretary to the Council of Presidents of the national Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, as well has his other national leadership roles, such as serving as the chair of APLU’s Energy Forum.

In other business, the Board approved:

  • Renovations to the National Resource Center for Coal and Energy for general purpose classrooms and instructional labs to accommodate general education classes by Fall 2013 at a cost of $3.3 million
  • Renovations to the Evansdale Library to accommodate a significant increase in its use and to add a small food service venue on the Evansdale Campus by Fall 2013 (phase I/first floor) and Fall 2014 (second phase/second floor) at a cost of $3.7 million.
  • An amended salary policy (Policy 29) to reflect that the current classified salary schedule has been fully funded, and the addition of a new staff compensation structure.
  • WVU’s Compact Report update and measurement to the HEPC.
  • Appointments to county Extension committees.

The Board’s next meeting is set for Dec. 13 by phone.



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