The West Virginia University Board of Governors on Friday (Feb. 20) moved the University closer to acquiring the assets of the former Mountain State University in Beckley, approving “all necessary steps” to complete the $8.5 million purchase.
The board unanimously authorized the University administration “to complete all necessary due diligence and to ensure that the terms of the executed purchase agreement and any other contingences are fulfilled to their satisfaction; and, upon such event, authorize all other necessary steps to be taken to purchase the land and other assets belonging to Mountain State University and, if necessary, to finance the purchase.” A separate resolution cleared the way for issuing bonds if necessary.
The University continues its due diligence in reviewing the assets, including the title and condition of the property, and could still decline to complete the purchase, but a final decision will come no later than mid-March.
“This is a significant move,” President Gordon Gee said. “It’s a unique opportunity for the university to open up many more of our great academic programs to that part of the state.”
In November, WVU entered into an exclusive due diligence agreement to explore the purchase of the Beckley campus, and ultimately extended an offer for the assets on Dec. 31. Mountain State trustees, as well as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the school, accepted the offer, which was then approved by a three-judge panel on Jan. 16. Proceeds of the sale will help fund a settlement of the lawsuit.
The Mountain State decision was the highlight of Friday’s meeting, held at the Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown.
Rob Alsop, vice president for legal, government and entrepreneurial engagement, updated the Board on the University’s legislative efforts, especially in the areas of budget support and operations.
“It’s another tough budget year for the state,” Alsop said, citing declining revenues from coal, natural gas and the lottery.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed budget would reduce WVU’s support by $7.4 million, the bulk affecting a variety of dedicated programs across the University system, including the Health Sciences Center.
To address the reductions, Alsop said, “we have been in discussions with legislative leaders about the value of investing in WVU and higher education in general.”
“We have also indicated that in addition to resources, the flexibility to manage our own campus would be very beneficial,” Alsop said, noting efforts that would allow WVU to invest more with the WVU Foundation and provide greater flexibility in areas of human resources and financial management. “We’re working a two-prong approach related to financial resources to support the institution.”
President Gee added that the initiatives would “allow us to be more entrepreneurial and to reinvent how we finance this institution.”
Despite the issues, Alsop said, “hopefully we have reached the light at the end of the tunnel . . . the out years of the budget look better than they have in the last few years.”
And Dr. Gee noted that the University plays a role in creating an environment that can contribute to developments such Proctor & Gamble’s announcement to build a new $500 million distribution center in the Eastern Panhandle which will employ 700 people.
Proctor and Gamble specifically asked where are the researchers that can help us, Gee said. “The answer is WVU.”
Provost Joyce McConnell briefed the Board on some recent University initiatives, including Project 168, “the place where student life and academic success intersect.”
The project, so-named because there are 168 hours in a week, “meets the needs of our freshmen in particular for both personal and academic success,” McConnell said. “The first year is the place where we can most actively engage them and put them on the path to success.
“Project 168 brings them together for the entire year and engages them in planning not only their academic journey while they’re here, but their personal journey for success after they leave,” McConnell said.
She specifically highlighted the living-learning communities, formed around a theme or specific field of study, offering smaller, more intimate environments where students can live with others who share academic and social interests. There are currently seven: one around sustainability; students who need additional academic assistance; students in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources; women in STEM; College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences; Honors College; and the College of Creative Arts.
She also lifted up creation of a new statewide travel fund for female faculty and post-doctoral scholars in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math, social sciences and women’s studies will soon help ease the burdens associated with child and eldercare costs.
McConnell highlighted the University’s efforts on addressing sexual violence, including the It’s on Us campaign that tracks with national efforts to combat sexual violence on campus.
In academic areas, McConnell highlighted the University’s inaugural class of Academic Leadership Fellows, which brings in faculty members to work in various areas of the Provost office. Also, she noted that searches for deans of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, College of Law, Honors and Extension are in various stages of completion.
In his report to the Board, Gee noted that since the board last met in December, there had been several key, top level leadership changes announced:
- Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean of Health Sciences, who was introduced to the board at the meeting.
- Shane Lyons, new director of athletics/associate vice president of intercollegiate athletics.
- Gypsy Denzine, dean of College of Education and Human Services.
- William Schafer, vice president of student life.
- Bryan Shaver, internal auditor, who was also introduced.
In other action, the board:
- Approved a new doctoral program in sociology in the Eberly College.
- Approved a master of science program in materials science and engineering within the Statler College.
- Endorsed naming the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics.
The Board’s next meeting is May 1 in Morgantown.
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