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Time to take our University back

October 20, 2014

Dear Students, Colleagues, Alumni and Friends:

Today I met with the chiefs of police from Morgantown and the University, along with fire officials, the city manager, and West Virginia University and student leaders concerning the unacceptable and destructive behavior that occurred Saturday night following our football team’s outstanding win over a highly-ranked Baylor team.

We all are extremely disappointed, frustrated and angry that a minority of students, and others who joined in, diverted the attention from the team’s achievement to inexcusable and lawless actions.

This is not how Mountaineers behave. And we will not condone such behavior by allowing individuals to remain on our campus who demean the reputation and achievements of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community.

Let me be clear: This is criminal behavior and individuals involved in setting fires, overturning trash bins or throwing objects at first responders WILL be held accountable. There is zero tolerance for this type of criminal and unruly behavior. Our Student Code of Conduct is clear on these matters and so is the law. We currently are reviewing the arrest records, as well as the videos and social media posts, to identify students involved. For those identified as participating in criminal activities, we will take swift and immediate disciplinary action — and for many, that will result in expulsion from this institution.

University and City Police are also encouraging anyone who can further identify any individual who was criminal or reckless to share that information with them, along with any social postings or photos by calling 304-293-COPS.

Let me state again that participation in criminal activities will result in immediate consequences. We will have zero tolerance for such behavior. But as we deal with the situation at hand, we also must look and move forward.

As Mountaineers, all of us MUST insist on a safe, healthy environment in and out of the classroom for our students. To do this, we must change the culture of West Virginia University. We must collectively — students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans — reject the reputation of our past and instill and embrace the reputation that is our future. And to do that, we must do four things.

First, we must engage students as our partners. Most were equally outraged and concerned at the actions of Saturday night — actions that do not accurately represent the student body as a whole. We have bright, capable student leaders on our campus who can help inform University leadership how to implement effective change. Today I met with many of our student leaders and they have been charged with creating solutions that will positively affect the culture at West Virginia University. We need and value their leadership.

Second, we will expect everyone to take personal responsibility for their actions. From students to alumni to fans, those who celebrate irresponsibly affect not only their futures, but also the future of this University and its reputation on a national scale. Those students who act in criminal behavior will be removed from this institution. Others who act irresponsibly will face disciplinary measures. As a member of the West Virginia University family, each one of us represents this institution. I ask that you remember that your actions reflect upon this University and its reputation. Let us each always put our best foot forward — and help remind others to do the same.

Third, we will continue to examine the national crisis of alcohol abuse among our young people. The University has many programs and activities in place to support our students, and those must continue. We must also continue to work with our city leaders to make this a community-wide partnership in caring for the health and well-being of our students and community. The issue of underage drinking and abusive behavior is a broad and challenging one. But in a spirit of cooperation, we can begin to create the necessary conversations and partnerships that will have a positive impact on our students and our community as a whole.

And fourth, our Mountaineer family needs to envision our future as an institution. We need to support this institution in our words and in our actions. Your input as to strategies we can implement to take this institution to a level of eminence is critical. I am proud to report that on Sunday our students started a social media campaign centered around being a respectful Mountaineer (#RespectfulMountaineer). I have been impressed with the response, but we need to do more. I encourage you to send me your thoughts and ideas as to how we as a campus community can actively support the change needed to help West Virginia University rise.

And that is what we will do: we will rise above this. Just as our fine football players and coaches did on Saturday to accomplish a truly electric and spectacular moment in our team’s history, we will work together to raise this institution and our community to a new level.

It is time to take our University back.

E. Gordon Gee
President, West Virginia University