Hell hath no fury like a university scorned.
On Monday morning, it was announced that WVU President E. Gordon Gee is on the board of advisors at the University of Austin, a new project that seeks to combat what its founders say is a culture of censorship on college campuses.
Gee sits upon a rather lengthy list of advisors for this up and coming university dedicated to “the intrepid pursuit of truth.”
The project’s stated goals are beside the point.
The president of our university is treating WVU — a school he claims is his “only priority” — as a lost cause.
After the news, Gee begged like a disloyal lover for us to take him back, to give him one more chance.
“Let me state unequivocally that I am fully committed to West Virginia University,” he wrote in a letter to students and faculty. “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.”
His involvement in this project makes us ask: Exactly how committed is Gee to the University that pays his impressive yet nauseating $800,000 a year salary if he is involved with another university?
The University of Austin's founders make clear that they believe higher education is fundamentally broken.
Paul Kanelos, the project’s inaugural president, indicts currently practicing institutions — from state schools to the Ivies — for failing to fix blaring improprieties.
“We are done waiting,” Kanelos writes. “We are done waiting for the legacy universities to right themselves. And so we are building anew.”
Gee wrote in the letter that he does not “believe or agree with everything that other advisors may share” but his choice to continue in his advisory role is concerning.
At the moment, the University of Austin has yet to acquire a physical campus, cannot confer degrees and is seeking accreditation.
His honeymoon phase with WVU is over and his eye is wandering to a new mistress halfway across the country.
Gee has been vocal about his beliefs that higher education needs reformation. In his book co-authored with Steven M. Gavazzi entitled “Land-Grant Universities of the Future” they write that “not all is well in land-grant land these days.”
Recognizing a problem is easy. Coming up with a solution is not.
Perhaps that is why Gee is taking a passive approach to academic amendment.
Gee has chosen to stay on a board that will place his name alongside several big names in academia including Robert Zimmer, former President of the University of Chicago and Larry Summers, former President of Harvard University.
We will note that both of these university presidents had the decency to leave one institution before getting in bed with another.
Additionally, this project allows Gee to balance risk and reward when considering his legacy.
If the project succeeds, Gee boosts his legacy, gains a sense of accomplishment, and likely sells a few more books.
If the project fails, his legacy stands to lose little, seeing as the venture is so far removed from the school with which his name is most closely associated.
Regardless of the outcome, WVU will suffer.
Our president, a pronounced proud leader of a land-grant public university, has diverted his eyes and efforts from his home turf to a private liberal arts college that cannot yet confer degrees.
In their newest book, titled “What’s Public About Public Higher Ed?” Gee and Gavazzi argue that in order bridge the disconnect between the general public and universities, public institutions must listen to the requests of the citizens of their state.
Of higher education administrators, they write “these same leaders have not bothered to ask community stakeholders what they want and need from their public universities.”
We simply ask that our university president concentrate his educational energies within state borders. Listen to the people of West Virginia before signing onto a project four states away that aims to fix higher education.
The president of our institution should not involve himself in a project that requires a lengthy plea of loyalty. Like a committed partner, we don’t expect perfection, but we do expect fidelity.