WVU State of the University

WVU President E. Gordon Gee at a State of the University address on Monday, Oct. 18 at the College of Law Fitzsimmons Event Hall.

West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee is under fire from some for his advisory role at the University of Austin, a new unaccredited university that aims to fix higher education.

Addressing over 200 faculty members and administrators at a WVU Faculty Senate meeting on Monday, Gee denied that his advising represented a conflict of interest and said he plans to continue advising the newly-formed school.

Earlier in the day, he released a letter saying he is “fully committed” to WVU and distancing himself from the University of Austin founders who say legacy institutions have had long enough to fix themselves and another solution is required.

“I do not agree other universities are no longer seeking the truth nor do I feel that higher education is irreparably broken,” Gee wrote.

The University of Austin was formed in response to what its founders say is a culture of censorship on university campuses. It is not yet accredited, does not yet have a physical campus and cannot confer degrees.

Asked at the Monday meeting by Rose Casey, professor of English, about his role at the new school going forward, Gee said he is strictly in an advisory role and is not paid for the advice he gives.

“I advise a number of different institutions,” he said. “I advise a couple of significant universities in this country...this is a different institution and it’s something that I welcome.”

Gee added that he was asked just last week to advise another institution but did not give specifics.

Pressed further by Casey about whether he would continue to advise University of Austin at a significant capacity, Gee said he would advise as time allows and that he cherished the “boldness” of the new school’s idea.

“My commitment is to West Virginia University, but my commitment also is to ideas and to generate ideas wherever they may be. And if other people want to come up with those ideas, I’ll welcome the opportunity to talk to them about it,” Gee said.

Asked at what point his role advising other institutions would represent a conflict of interest with his responsibilities at WVU, he laid out two key markers.

“It represents a conflict if I am being paid by them or if I am taking away from my own responsibilities and duties here,” Gee said, adding that he advises on a “very regular basis” but continues to give “immense amounts of energy and commitment” to WVU.

One faculty senator asked: “What does the President say to students of color and transgender students and residents of the state that feel unsafe at WVU knowing that the head of the University serves alongside those who would like to create a university that openly disparages discussions of race and inclusion towards transgender students?”

“The President has said he does not necessarily agree with the viewpoints of those associated with the University [of Austin]. But by being associated with these individuals, he does tactically endorse their views.”

“That’s a dog whistle,” Gee responded.

“[The University of Austin founders] are certainly supportive of diversity in all of its iterations,” he continued. “...My stance on issues of race and gender and equity are very clear. It does not change what we are doing at our institution.”

Gee told faculty senators that fear is the biggest issue facing universities today, specifically “fear from people that speak up and speak out not to be categorized as racist.”

He said he is committed to WVU and made the distinction between his personal academic work and his role as a university president. Gee has published two books on public education called “Land-Grant Universities of the Future” and “What’s Public about Public Higher Ed?” and is working on a third.

“I spend most of my time working on behalf of this institution,” Gee said. “I exercise my own freedom and my own ideas by expressing through my books and my writing.”

Asked what future benefits to WVU his involvement with a private liberal arts school could bring, he said there might be future partnerships between the two institutions.

Gee said potential partnerships could present “the opportunity to have some really interesting people become engaged with our University who have a wide variety of viewpoints.”

He also said he has worked with a major donor behind the University of Austin that might be interested in also making significant contributions to WVU.