Gordan Gee talking with members of the DA staff on Aug. 24, 2021.

The staff of the Daily Athenaeum sat down with WVU President E. Gordon Gee on Tuesday for an interview. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

DA: On Monday, the FDA fully approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and you chose not to mandate the vaccine. Why was that? And what went into that decision?

Gee: Well, because of the fact that our numbers look really good. And you know, I would just say this, individually. I'm not speaking on behalf of the University, I'm not sure if the mandate really worked. I think that the community and human choice is more important. What we do do, though — and the reason I say there our numbers are reflecting that -- is the fact that our vaccination numbers are going way up...And I think that with the variant that is going on, that people need to really take advantage of that. The second thing is that with the populations we're dealing with, we know that there are a certain number of breakthroughs. But if you have been vaccinated, the breakthroughs are minimal. You may have a little bit of a cough or something, but not much. And so we think that that's an important piece of data. And then wearing masking in class, we think is another important piece. But I think that a good community response is not mandating something, but rather encouraging and incentivizing people to do what they're doing. Again, remember what I said, it's a dance. So let's say that we have a huge spike of some kind of this variant, then we may move to a different model. But right now, our numbers are very reflective of the policies that we have.

DA: And when you say different model, do you mean some sort of vaccine requirement?

Gee: Yeah, I mean, I mean, that's always a possibility. But I hope that we don't ever come to the point at which we are having to mandate anything other than common sense. I always believe in mandating common sense.

DA: Why was there a decision made to require masks in specifically classrooms and labs and not other indoor areas?

Gee: Well, because we've taken a look again — at the data — and I think that what we really have discovered is the fact that masking in class provides a level of protection and comfort. But again, if we mandated it for every area, then number one, it's a mandate. But number two, there's not a lot of data that shows that that is going to be as helpful as being [wearing masks when in close quarters for an extended period of time]. And you know, very honestly, your age group, our dean of public health will tell you that, probably 60 or 70% of you have the virus. You've had it, you just don't know you've had it. So you're actually immune. And so there is a level of immunity that none of us really understand. But you do have that.

DA: Do you have any message for those people that still have not either verified their vaccine or submitted a negative COVID test?

Gee: Well, first of all, my message to everyone is get the damn shot. I mean, it's pretty simple to me. I mean, I cannot understand why anyone would not get this vaccine. It's built on a great platform. The success is verified. And, I'm an example of that. I've had Pfizer and it gives you both comfort but also, I'm around a lot of people a lot of the time and during the really mask wearing era, I wear a mask. But you know, I think the people who believe that you know that they're going to grow to two heads or something, they just need to understand that it's not only about them. It's about everyone with whom they come in contact, and it's about the future of their own families. I think that we need to say, look either you need to submit to the tests or you take the vaccine, if not, you're going to have to follow certain protocols. That's different than mandating. That's following certain protocols. And so the way that I just think we need to be pretty, pretty strict about that.

DA: The University often prides itself in diversity, international outreach. But recent numbers show that WVU has seen a decline since 2018 in the international student numbers. I was wondering what this trend means for the university, and what efforts are being made to maybe increase those numbers?

Gee: I mean this has been a decline in all. Our students numbers have not been as, as dramatic as some of the national numbers, saying that, the international component of our university is very important. We've been particularly very, very well received and very aggressive in the Middle East, for example. And because of our petroleum engineering program, because we are affiliated with the Royal University for women in Bahrain, and a variety of other other things. Obviously, China has been a very important part of where we are, but as you know, we've had these international flare ups, with our own government, with some of the other countries plus, we've had the virus, which basically stopped people from traveling for the last 18 months or so. Our intent is to grow our numbers again. And we're going to do it through affiliations, through recruiting, and then through developing strategies so that students can come and spend some time here, and then be affiliated with their own institution.