WVU President E. Gordon Gee visited the Daily Athenaeum newsroom on Thursday to take questions from the staff. Below are some of the topics discussed.

Pedestrian safety

Gee said the University has put emphasis on safety this academic year; he pointed to a safety website that had recently been created (safety.wvu.edu).

“We have a task force – I hate task forces, by the way, I just want to get to work – but we have a group of people who are working diligently to see how we can best make certain that we have those crossing areas worked out,” Gee said.

“Have you ever driven around and watched the fact that students don’t look at all when they cross the street?” Gee said. “It is astounding.”

“They never stop; they never look,” Gee said. “It’s a wonder that we don’t have more accidents. And we’re trying to deal with that. I think that one of the things as part of our focus on safety this year is getting students to understand that they have responsibility for safety too.”

“The answer is two-fold,” he said. “One is that we’ve got a lot of efforts going on, and the second one is the fact that we need to have a lot of conversations.”

Privatization

Last year, the University shifted control of its dining services to Sodexo, a French company.

“There’s someone else who can do it better than us, because we’re not good at everything. We’re good at the education business,” Gee said. “We need to think carefully about having others do it where it is a savings to us and a quality improvement for the students and those who are being served.”

When asked if there are further plans for privatization, Gee said, “Probably not.”

“Probably the thing we’ll look at most will be public-private partnerships,” Gee said, pointing to the University’s residence halls. “Areas where we enter into public-private partnerships with others who will carry the financial burden to rebuild our residence halls, but they get a certain return on their money.”

Looking ahead at the legislature

During the 2019 state legislative session, campus carry almost passed, much to the concern of University officials. In past years, the state has opted to slice the budget.

“We always are concerned about the legislature,” Gee said.

“We always want to make sure our funding is stable and make certain we continue to be deregulated,” Gee said.

“We don’t have one particular big agenda,” Gee said. “Obviously, we are absolutely opposed to campus carry.”

University finances

Gee said that despite a drop in state funding from when he first became president of WVU to now, the University is financially strong this year.

“When I was here the first time around in 1980 as the president, 70 % of our budget came from the state, about 12 or 13 [%] comes from the state now,” Gee said. “What that really says is the fact that public universities have had real deterioration in terms of their state support, and so what that requires us to do, to be financially strong, is for us to make a lot of choices to also make sure that we’re always focusing on increasing quality.”

Gee said it’s easy to balance the budget on the backs of students, faculty or others by allowing quality to deteriorate, but that it’s a short-term gain and a long-term disaster.

Inclusivity on campus

When asked about how the University demonstrates inclusivity, Gee said, “We have an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, [and] we are a very diverse institution. We have students from 55 counties, 50 states, 115 countries that speak 100 different languages. Just by the very nature of where we are, we have students from all over the world and all different kinds of backgrounds.”

Gee said that as a land grant university, WVU is really living up to a relentless charge to be a place to build communities and opportunities.

“This is an important part of where we are,” he said. “You can’t have inclusion without diversity, but if you have diversity without any inclusion, then why are we here.”

Gee said he wants to make sure everyone is cared for in the University.

He also said that a big part of being a diverse university is interacting with many different people and having absolute, free speech.

“Why would we have students from all over the world unless we find a way for them to be included and for us to learn from them,” he said. “If you’re from Mingo County and you never meet a kid from Saudi Arabia, or you don’t have any kind of contact, and yet they’re part of where we are right here, that, I think, is unhealthy.”

He said that a university needs to be a place of absolute, unadulterated free speech that welcomes all ideas.

“If we’re diverse without inclusion then we’re not meeting our goals, and I think that the issue is that the most important learning experiences that occur on university campuses, they’re not in the classroom, they’re outside.”