West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 68

WVE: What do you remember most about your own higher education experience, and how did that prepare you for how you lead UC today? EW: Sadly, almost everything I experienced as a student in college and graduate school is obsolete. I had some fantastic faculty members, but to a person, their classroom behavior was stand and deliver. They did not understand student engagement and learning by doing. I am so proud that UC’s faculty has moved wholeheartedly into more effective teaching strategies. I have a piece of limestone in my office with the word “nothing” inscribed on it. That stone reminds me that nothing is written in stone. We must continue to change our processes and our activities. WVE: You came to UC in 1989 to serve as president. What vision did you have for the university upon your arrival, and how has that vision evolved over the years? EW: Vision is seeing the future intersections between the long-standing mission of an institution and the ever-changing environment. Effective presidents don’t impose a vision on a university. They help the faculty and staff forecast future challenges and opportunities and create the best strategies for maintaining a strong institution that can fulfill its mission. Then pr esidents need to describe the vision and the strategies in persuasive terms. Our first tasks after my arrival were to strengthen UC’s financial health and to replace four mission statements with one. Over time, our shared vision has included constructing much-needed facilities, particularly residence halls; dramatically transforming the curriculum; bringing back football; adding graduate programs and expanding to new locations and online education. WVE: When you arrived at UC, the school was in such financial peril that it almost closed. How were you able to reinvent the university and bring it back from that precipice to the success it sees today? EW: When I came to Charleston, the university was dealing with 15 years of financial deficits and confusion about its mission. Those two shortcomings were related. UC could not and cannot be everything to everyone. We had to learn that we are a private university whose mission is “to educate each student for a life of productive work, enlightened living and community involvement.” We realized we were undervaluing our learning experiences. We increased our tuition to levels necessary to support the quality we delivered, and we reduced or eliminated budget expenditures for activities that were less important in fulfilling our mission. These steps were a significant cultural change for the university. WVE: What do you identify as the major challenges of higher education in West Virginia, and how is UC addressing those challenges? EW: The major challenges are keeping college affordable, helping students and families understand the need for more than a high school education and assuring that students actually learn while they are in college. This coming year, UC will give $12.5 million in financial aid to students—in addition to more than $20 million from federal and state sources—while also identifying ways to hold down the cost of providing the learning and living resources that students want. UC is able to hold students accountable because we have identified specifically what students must know and be able to do before they can earn the credits necessary for graduation. 68 west virginia executive WVE: What do you think colleges will be like in the next 10-20 years? EW: No one knows. Twenty years ago, few people would have forecast the increased governmental regulation of higher education, the increasing skepticism about the value of education and the way for-profit companies have used federal financial aid to expand their education businesses. My forecast is that public research institutions and brand-name private institutions will continue as they are. Other institutions may find that books, buildings and tenure are less important and financial aid, cost cutting, proof of success and government regulation are more important. WVE: You accepted a position at the White House to pay your way through school and worked with three different administrations. Tell us about your time at the White House and what you remember most about the experience. EW: My father was a minister in D.C., and a member of our church secured for me a position in the White House, which I kept for 11 years, during the administrations of presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. It allowed me to pay my way through school. My duties included teaching Lyndon Johnson’s secretaries shorthand and typing, working on messages to Congress and presidential speeches, answering the president’s mail and working with various presidential aides. What I learned as a young man is that our national leaders are no different than the rest of us. They have the same variety of motivations, prejudices and family issues. It is just that their decisions and actions impact more people. WVE: How do you determine the best moves for UC, and how do you make those ideas become reality? EW: We study trends and listen to input to decide which ideas for change best fit our mission, the desires of our students, the needs of the world around us and what other colleges and universities are doing. When a core group of people share the same vision, we can move forward together to implement the desired changes. WVE: Tell us about the closing of Mountain State University (MSU) and why UC chose to offer assistance to MSU’s students. EW: Many people have the misconception that UC bought out Mountain State. Because of Mountain State’s legal issues, UC did not want to have any relationship with Mountain State that would result in our being a successor institution. UC agreed to do several things: help MSU students transfer to UC so they could complete their studies; lease MSU’s facilities and equipment for 25 years; build up a UC presence in Beckley and Southern West Virginia, as well as in Martinsburg and online, and offer UC’s programs and former MSU programs in those new locations. UC had great sympathy for the MSU students who were not going to be able to complete their degrees, and we wanted to maintain a traditional private college enterprise in Beckley. In addition, in the spring of 2012, UC completed a strategic planning process that determined it should expand its enrollment toward 2,500 students, add new academic programs, move into online education, gain economic efficiencies through the better use of technology, reduce per-student operational costs and focus on the recruitment of West Virginia students. Our regional expansion into Beckley, Martinsburg and online education helped us move more quickly toward achieving each of these goals.