The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 22, 2014

WVU has hindered progress on Montgomery revitalization

— On May 20, 2014, WVU Tech President Carolyn Long spoke to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCEA) about the status of the revitalization process on the WVU Tech campus as mandated in Senate Bill 486 (March 2011). According to an article in The Charleston Gazette, President Long commented to LOCEA that “we have received nothing but support from the main campus (WVU) to move forward.”

The Take Back Tech Committee, as the group representing the 7,000-plus citizens who signed the 2006 petition to keep Tech’s engineering school in Montgomery, do not agree with that statement. WVU has hindered progress on the WVU Tech campus for 18 years and the same holds true for the revitalization process.

The Revitalization Project for West Virginia University Institute of Technology Team Report (hereafter, Report) mandated through SB486, states, “The best thinking in Morgantown and Charleston will be secondary to decisions made on the WVU Tech campus.”

Yet, the Tech Revitalization Committee (hereafter, Committee) as mandated through SB486, was composed predominantly of members who came directly from WVU or had very close ties to WVU. The Committee included no representation from the community until the mayors in Fayette County and the Upper Kanawha Valley requested — through the Governor’s office — that two community representatives serve on the Committee. However, the community quickly learned that the community representatives were working in the minority and that the community input would be very limited.

Because of the composition of the Committee, and the way its decisions were made, the $7.8 million that it requested in December 2012 from the Legislature for campus revitalization projects was based entirely upon the estimates and recommendations in a document ordered and paid for by WVU: The West Virginia University Institute of Technology Integrated Facilities Plan (hereafter, Sightlines). The $7.8 million request was not based upon the recommendations in the Revitalization Project for West Virginia University Institute of Technology Team Report.

What are the differences between the Report and Sightlines?

The Report, mandated by SB486, deals with facilities upgrades and improvements in all phases of the campus — including academics. It proposes that the state invest $30 million in capital improvements needed on the Tech campus and suggests ways that Tech can become self-supporting and improve academically.

In contrast, Sightlines, commissioned by WVU, deals exclusively with facilities upgrades. Sightlines suggests that a $70.4 million investment in facilities is needed. It does not suggest a way for Tech to become self-supporting and does not suggest any way to revitalize Tech academically.

The Report stresses three critical revitalization needs for WVU’s divisional campus in Montgomery.

-- Grow enrollment to 1,800, preferably full-time equivalent, in order for the campus to become self-sustaining.

The 10.6 percent enrollment increase in the past year (2013) that President Long stressed to LOCEA is far from countering the 16.4 percent enrollment decrease for the preceding year (2012). Tech needs an enrollment of 1,800, full-time equivalent, to become self-sustaining, but Tech’s full-time enrollment for the 2013 year was only 1,052, 748 students short of the enrollment needed to sustain Tech.

-- Invest a minimum of $30 million in capital improvements on the campus in a five-year period.

The Report (dated Oct. 7, 2011) states, “From a financial perspective, unless a heady three to five year action plan is implemented immediately, there will be no distant future. This action plan must be accompanied by a five to seven million dollar infusion in each of the next five years.”

In the four legislative sessions since SB486 became law, the campus has received no infusion of the funds suggested in the Report. Nor has it received a single dollar of the $7.8 million requested in 2012 by the Committee acting on Sightlines (not Report) recommendations.

-- Grow Academics — In its academic recommendations, the Report proposes that WVU Tech become the cooperative education (co-op) institution in the state, requiring cooperative education or internship experiences for ALL graduates. The Report refers to the co-op/internship program as the “cachet needed for Tech to achieve and sustain its enrollment goals.”

The Committee did not even acknowledge, much less address, this recommendation.

The Report also recommends that WVU Tech offer teacher education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.

In her presentation to LOCEA, President Long failed to address the STEM teacher education program and the co-op/internship program recommended in the Report.

Have these programs been implemented on the campus? The community has requested an answer to that question, but President Long has failed to respond.

In sum, the direction taken by WVU leadership in the WVU Tech revitalization process provides yet another example of the inept leadership that has adversely affected the Montgomery campus for 18 years.

As President Long acknowledged in her May 20 presentation to LOCEA, WVU Tech has a $1.8 million deficit in its operating budget.

Furthermore, it continues to operate with no infusion of the $7.8 million requested from the West Virginia Legislature or WVU to start the revitalization process.

The growth of enrollment to 1,800 full-time students has not occurred. In fact, the enrollment has fallen since 2011, and is nearly 42 percent below the level necessary to sustain Tech.

That minimum investment of $30 million for capital improvements “without which there will be no distant future for Tech”? There has been no investment toward the $30 million by the Legislature or by WVU to provide for the distant future of Tech or those it serves.

Yet Tech President Long tells LOCEA, “We have received nothing but support from the main campus (WVU) to move forward.”

Tech does need support to move forward so that it and its students will have a future.

— Gail Harlan of Montgomery is chair of the Take Back Tech Committee.

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