On June 19, 2020, President Gee gave the following report at the West Virginia University Board of Governors meeting.
As our chairman mentioned in his opening remarks, I really have reflected on this and I want to address the crises with which our nation is struggling and how we will address both at West Virginia University.
This is my 40th year as a University president, I have witnessed change that has had significant historical and social ramifications. Whether it be political upheavals such as Watergate or an attack on our democracy such as 9/11, what has happened is that our country has always strived to come back together to life as we knew it. However, each time in these occasions we failed to use those moments to genuinely address – or even recognize – the many social and racial issues with which our nation continues to grapple.
As I have watched the protests across the country and listened to the poignant words from our own WVU and Morgantown communities, I know that we have the opportunity and we must do better in showing value and appreciation for our Black students, faculty, staff, alumni and certainly our community members. And I am glad to be discussing this issue on Juneteenth, the day in which we commemorate the emancipation of enslaved Black people in Texas – two years after the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. That fact – indeed this date – makes me keenly aware that we must move from words to action. let me say that again, we must move from words to action.
Our role as a University, however, is not to merely make change because it is being asked of us. Our role is to examine the fundamentals of the requests – and then we should go further. I wrote in an earlier letter to our campus community that we must do better. And we will.
To begin, I will personally be establishing teams that will address racism and racial inequality within our university system. We will create action-oriented working groups to make recommendations on how this University can improve and then focus on implementation. This is not a task force or a strategic planning process. as you know I don’t believe in strategic planning, I believe in action. This is a commitment to recognize deficits and act quickly to effect change. If you are interested in sharing your expertise, ideas and leadership on this effort, please send your information to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday, June 24.
So with that in mind, today I am directing the following campus leaders to form the initial working groups to begin on the most pressing issues:
- Rob Alsop, vice president for strategic initiatives, and Hannah Davis, president of Delta Sigma Theta and vice president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, will co-chair a working group addressing university policing. Action items may include trainings, policies and partnerships with other police departments;
- Corey Farris, dean of students, and Eric Murphy, assistant director of service and learning, will co-chair a working group addressing the development of Black student leaders. Action items may include program development, cultural awareness activities and increased exposure of current organizations;
- Sharon Martin, vice president for university relations and enrollment management, and Marjorie Fuller, director of the Center for Black Culture and Research, will co-chair a working group addressing the development of a culturally aware and inclusive campus environment. Actions may include anti-racism education, recruitment strategies for students of color and public service campaigns; and
- Meshea Poore, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, and Carrie Showalter, executive director of student conduct, will co-chair a working group addressing campus and community partnerships. Action items may include reviewing student and employee codes of conduct, policies on racially insensitive symbols or language, and community programming.
Additional working groups may be added. We always have that as an option. On June 30, the University will release a list of the members within each working group, along with contact information. So now this is the point, I will be asking each group to provide at minimum three action items by July 27. Upon review, the University will prioritize actions to move forward – with many implemented by the first day of classes on Aug. 19.
Transparency of our efforts and our results will be of the utmost importance. We will create a web page where information can be accessed, and we will continue to hold public forums to discuss progress and gain valuable feedback.
This is just the beginning. And it is true that we have talked about all of these issues many, many times before. We have been listening. We have not been acting. Together, we can and will do better. But we can only do that through honest conversations that reveal honest realizations upon which we can improve.
I also wish to emphasize that in order to build a stronger University that represents and supports all, we must first acknowledge we each have unique perspectives and experiences. We are not starting on the same page; we are not even in the same book.
However, as an institution of higher learning, we stand on the very ground where education can create change – both personal and societal. There is no question we have much to learn. But if we are to truly create something different, we must admit and accept that each of us will have different journeys to our final destination. There is no shame in not knowing something if you have not been exposed to it. There is nothing wrong in changing your view if arguments and information lead you to do so. This is the moment to learn from each other and of course gain new knowledge. It is what you do with the new knowledge that matters most.
So, in addition, the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge our nation. However, West Virginia University will be returning to campus this fall under the guidance of state and local health officials, as you’ve just heard. I want to thank the working groups who have been diligently and thoughtfully addressing the many changes we must make to address this issue. We continue to release new information weekly. Those details can be found at our Return to Campus website.
We will be taking all health precautions to keep our students, faculty and staff safe.
And this is my final note, Mr. Chairman.
It is critical that we each of us take all of the safety precautions seriously if we wish to be on campus this fall. That means we must get very comfortable with wearing masks and in fact as I say, we must make masks cool and physically distancing. We must wash our hands and be considerate of those around us. This fall by any stretch of the imagination will be very different – there is no doubt. But if we practice the guidelines we have put in place to protect one another, I am very confident we can have a successful semester.