MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Plans for a new, Texas-based, higher education institution, called the University of Austin were announced Monday. Also announced was a 30 member board of advisors for the new school.
One of those 30 is current West Virginia University President Gordon Gee.
“We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One,” read the title of the announcement for the new university. “So much is broken in America. But higher education might be the most fractured institution of all,” the announcement went on.
Several hours after the announcement was made, Gee issued the following letter “to address concerns raised by his advisory role at the University of Austin noting this opportunity highlights how transformation across the WVU System can help lift all of higher education.”
Dear West Virginia University Students, Faculty, Staff and Alumni,
I wish to address the concerns many of you have expressed regarding today’s announcement from the University of Austin.
First and foremost, let me state unequivocally that I am fully committed to West Virginia University. Our mission as a land-grant, flagship institution that serves our state and its people is – and will always be – my only priority. I am devoted to this University and to all of you who share in its past, present and future. I have no intentions of placing my energies elsewhere.
However, I have never been shy in sharing my thoughts on how higher education can – and must – improve if we are to have a positive impact on people’s lives. I have always stated that we need to improve quality while reducing costs, and that we must always be a place of free expression and dialogue.
Through the work of academic transformation on our campus over the past year, we are tackling the issue of creating an innovative and integrated educational experience. We are examining programs and processes to ensure that our students are receiving a high-quality academic education at the lowest possible cost, along with the critical services and supports they need to be successful.
We have also reaffirmed our commitment to create an inclusive, educational environment where there is the space to learn from each other – even those with whom we may fundamentally disagree. I have always strongly felt that every campus must be a haven where all ideas can be exchanged freely in a civil and thoughtful manner. This is the very tenant of academic freedom. I have spoken to this point frequently and remain committed to this ideal.
My involvement with the University of Austin has been in an advisory role to the new president, Dr. Pano Kanelos. Drawing on concepts from my most recent books, “Land-Grant Universities of the Future” and “What’s Public about Public Higher Ed?”, I have shared my insights on why I believe higher education must change. And I have provided examples of how we are working to change higher education at West Virginia University and within the state of West Virginia. I will always be open to partnerships that will advance the role of higher learning and the ways we can provide a space for thoughtful and meaningful experiences for our campus community.
Serving in an advisory capacity does not mean I believe or agree with everything that other advisors may share. I do not agree other universities are no longer seeking the truth nor do I feel that higher education is irreparably broken. I do not believe that to be the case at West Virginia University.
However, having devoted my life to higher education and served as a witness to an ever-changing landscape over time, I do agree that change needs to happen in terms of how higher education is perceived and supported. I am keenly aware that change cannot happen in a vacuum. It needs the breadth of ideas and the depths of challenging concepts to truly emerge stronger. Without these difficult conversations, nothing will advance.
While I know some are disappointed that I have served in this role of advisor, I did so with the highest intention to develop strategies that would improve and potentially benefit all of higher education. Sharing the innovation that is happening at West Virginia University and the vision we have for a brighter future will lift us all. It does not detract from, nor delay, the important and critical work we are doing here.
Again, I want to emphasize that I am fervently committed to leading West Virginia University. I remain focused on the land-grant mission and the people we serve. Though not all may agree with my decision to advise this new entity, I am hopeful we can agree that discussing higher education and its needs with a variety of constituents is beneficial. It is this much-needed exchange of ideas that will drive all of us forward.Sincerely,
E. Gordon Gee
Gee is the only sitting university president on the University of Austin’s new board.