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New president unfolds ambitious plans for WVU [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Special to the Post-Gazette

MORGANTOWN, WV—Neil S. Bucklew, the new president of West Virginia University, wants to use his tenure to make WVU a “nation-class” institution.

The true test of his success, he said, would be an improvement in the state economy because of upgraded university standards and performance. To accomplish that, he plans to approach the state Legislature for money to increase faculty salaries, become more competitive for federal grants, toughen writing and math and course requirements for undergraduates, improve international awareness and increase minority student enrollment.

“We are developing an overall strategy that will give us a focus to the goals we want to achieve,” said Bucklew, a native West Virginian and a former WVU student. “In five to six years I want to look back on what we’re doing now and be able to say we attended to some priorities.”

WVU is the state’s best resource, he said. “Having higher salaries for professors and more literature graduates is the only way for us to keep up in the competitive academic market. The state of West Virginia deserves nothing less.”

Although he provided no details on his plan, Bucklew went so far as to say he would consider tuition increases to raise faculty salaries.

Strengthening did say WVU’s commitment to academic basics is the first item on his agenda. The university needs to begin emphasize writing, mathematics, computer literacy and foreign languages—core classes that students will be required to master before graduation, he said, noting efforts are being made for the university to work in conjunction with state leaders, the government, and the business community to improve economic standards in the state.

“We plan to set up programs where the university and the business community work together in research projects that will benefit the whole state,” Bucklew said.

But that will cost money.

“Ninety-three percent of our research is funded by federally sponsored grants,” he said, “but some of the programs the government has created have no support [anymore from the federal treasury]. The amount of grants is declining and we have to work harder to be more competitive to get these grants.”

The new president also plans to increase the enrollment of blacks at WVU. Only 460 attend, accounting for a mere 2.7 percent of 17,100-student body. Statewide, blacks make up 3.3 percent of the population. He also wants the university to employ more women, particularly in faculty and staff positions.

Topping Bucklew’s agenda is development of a resource center for international study. He said that developing students’ foreign language skills will improve cultural understanding, make the students better world citizens and, as a practical matter, make them more attractive to employers. He advocates setting up joint research teams between WVU and Japanese faculty and students on various subjects.

For the last five years, Bucklew was president of the University of Montana, which has a center on international trade relations.

“There are many major things to be understood internationally if we are going to be partners with our friends across the Pacific,” he said.


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