Ken Gray’s impact is reflected everywhere in the campus life of West Virginia University’s students. Whether it be their physical or mental health, their safety or overall well-being, “The General” has made WVU a better place for students since he was named vice president for student affairs in 1997, colleagues and student leaders say.
Now, after more than 16 years in that role, which followed a stellar 30-year military career, Gray has announced his retirement, effective with the appointment of his successor.
Ken Gray exemplifies everything great about our state and our university,” said WVU President Jim Clements. “The qualities of character and honor come to mind as soon as I think of General Gray. He truly respects and cherishes the opportunity we have to help students and has collaborated over many years to develop programs that meet their changing needs. He is a tremendous colleague and friend to so many of us, and we wish him and his family a very enjoyable, well-deserved retirement. As one of our former student body leaders said so well, with Ken’s retirement we have a big heart to fill at WVU.”
Gray arrived at WVU after retiring from the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps where he had reached the rank of major general and was the assistant judge advocate general. A 1969 WVU law graduate, he said at the time it was a way for him to give something back to a place and a state that are special to him.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed serving as vice president for student affairs and being an advocate for our students,” Gray said. “I have had a unique opportunity to observe our great University as a student, an alumnus, a parent of two sons who are graduates, and as an employee, and I can confirm that WVU is among the best universities in the country for preparing students to meet the challenges of a global society and for helping them realize their dreams.”
Gray immediately began applying his leadership and passion for people in his new role. During his tenure, Student Affairs has established several highly regarded programs that have increased enrollment of domestic and international students, enhanced wellness and safety and helped students succeed in and out of the classroom.
“He truly cares and desires to understand and improve the lives of each student at WVU,” said Rachel Welsh de Iga, who was Student Government Association president when Gray arrived on campus. “It is often said, when a leader moves on there will be big shoes to fill. In the case of Vice President Gray, WVU will have one big heart to fill.”
De Iga recalled Gray’s first year on campus: “It was our first year as University leaders and, in my opinion, he was the perfect mentor for student leaders. In a year of extremely controversial issues between students and the administration, he exhibited extraordinary leadership and, not only did he resolve the issues, he brought the two parties closer than ever.”
Gray worked for many years with administrators, other campus leaders and the community to transform environmental factors contributing to the health and wellness of students. In 1998, with support from then-University President David Hardesty, Gray spearheaded WVUp All Night, one of the first late-night alternative programs in the country. WVUp All Night was designed in collaboration with students to provide safe, fun and free alternative weekend activities for students every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. On average, 2,500 students attend the weekend events.
Gray also took the lead on FallFest in 1997. The welcome-back concert and celebration for students was created by university leaders as an alternative to a former unsanctioned, disorderly and unsafe block party. Also, under his direction, the long-time tailgating tradition at every home football game known as the “the Pit” was transformed into The Student LOT. Now in its third year as an alcohol-free area, this area has more than met its charge of offering students a fun, safe place to gather prior to WVU home football games.
Also under his direction, WELLWVU: The Students’ Center of Health was formed in 2009 and has been successful in integrating WVU medical and mental health, substance abuse, fitness and nutrition, and sexual health program and services. Gray was also a key player in upgrading the club, intramural and recreation sports facilities and the bringing a state-of-the-art Student Recreation Center to the WVU community.
Among the successful areas Student Affairs has helped lead over the years include the Mountaineer Parents Club, which involves parents and other family members in programs and activities that improve the student experience; Adventure WV, which provides wilderness-based college orientation programs for first-year students and more comprehensive experiential education for students of all levels; and the Office of International Students and Scholars, which serves all members of the international community who participate or will participate in international experiences at WVU.
A key initiative focused on student success extended to the residence halls with establishment of Resident Faculty Leaders to serve as mentors for students in the residence halls. This program was coordinated by Student Affairs for many years, and has evolved into one of the programs administered by Academic Affairs as part of the University’s retention initiatives.
“Ken Gray is a distinguished son of West Virginia and its flagship university,” said former President Hardesty, who appointed him vice president. “After graduation from our College of Law, he rose to the highest rank accorded an U.S. Army lawyer, after which he returned home to lead the effort to make WVU a truly student-centered learning community. He has modeled a lifetime of true public service to his country, his state and higher education. We all salute him.”
WVU Chief of Staff Jay Cole added, “Ken is one of the finest individuals with whom I have ever worked. I admire and appreciate his kindness of spirit, his impeccable ethics, and his constant collegiality – especially under difficult circumstances. He is an inspiration, both because of his life’s story and because of his devotion to WVU. It has been my high honor to work with him and I wish him all of the very best as he embarks on a well-deserved retirement.”
Gray, born in Excelsior, W.Va., received his bachelor’s degree from West Virginia State College in 1966 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant from U.S. Army ROTC. In 1969, he earned his law degree from WVU and entered active duty in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Gray held several significant assignments during his military career and was promoted to brigadier general in 1991. He was assigned as commander of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency and chief judge of the U.S. Army Court of Military Review. In 1993, he was promoted to major general and sworn in as assistant judge advocate general of the Army. Gray retired in 1997 and assumed his current position.
His military awards and decorations include: the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit; Bronze Star; Meritorious Service Medal, with two Oak Leaf Clusters; Army Commendation Medal; Army Achievement Medal; and Army Staff Identification Badge.
In 1991, the WVU College of Law presented him with its highest honor, the Justitia Officium Award. Gray is also a member of the WVU Academy of Distinguished Alumni. He has been recognized as a Distinguished West Virginian by Gov. Gaston Caperton and Cecil Underwood.
Also, in 2003 Gray was among 10 prominent African-American leaders, including Coretta Scott King, to be featured in 2003 Strong Men and Women: Excellence in Leadership, a series of educational materials produced by energy company Dominion.
Additionally, the Student Organizations Services established the Kenneth D. Gray Student Leadership Award to recognize exemplary leadership on behalf of students at WVU. This award is one of WVU’s most prestigious student honors and spotlights those who demonstrate exemplary critical-thinking, creativity and positive leadership.
CONTACT: Sabrina Cave, Division of Student Affairs
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