MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said the school must accept its role in leading the way towards a better economy for all West Virginia during his annual State of the University address.

“It is really time we start telling our story to the world,” Gee said Monday afternoon.

Gee was critical of the shrinking piece of the pie being provided to West Virginia University by the state Legislature, but said in this hour of challenges facing the state that now is not the time for WVU to shrink from its responsibilities.

“We in West Virginia have believed in our own bad press,” he said. “We’ve done that for so long that we’ve manifested the degrading headlines into a reality that begets only more negative press.”

Gee said the university and the state must recognize that its best asset is its people, but that asset is diminishing because of a perfect storm of challenges facing the state.

“The opiate epidemic is a serious threat to our state’s well-being, and combating it is one of our university’s top priorities,” Gee said.

That also means, according to Gee, tackling other major health issues, revitalizing the workforce, and overall putting an end to the “migration” of West Virginians to other states in search of a better future.

“I know this to be certain, if we can create jobs and the space where businesses can thrive, West Virginians will come home,” he said. “I can not personally count the number of West Virginians who would love nothing more than to return to their native state. We must work together to bring them home.”

He said those who have left their home and those who stayed both deserve a West Virginia competitive with any state in America — not mired in discussions of being 50th in this category or that category.

“The people who dwell among these magnificent hills and hollows deserve lives as soaring and as strong as our landscape,” he said. “They deserve the economic security, stellar education, and first-rate healthcare that would allow them to approach life’s starting line on an even footing with all Americans.”

Gee said West Virginia University has offered a blueprint forward through service to others — citing how quickly students, faculty, and alumni sprang into action to assist southern West Virginia during the historic floods of June 23.

“Service embodies the courage needed to make change,” he said. “In this pivotal moment, we must embrace our strengths and tackle our problems in the firm faith that we can make a difference.”

Not a fan of “drafting verbose strategic plans that end up in binders lining dusty shelves,” Gee suggested that the institution should be welcome to change in the future.

“Deciding to change is difficult, and resistance to change is as entrenched in academia as it is elsewhere,” he said. “Moving in a new direction might upset the apple cart, and we fear losing or bruising any apples.”

Gee also touted West Virginia Forward, a new program that brings together the state Chamber of Commerce, WVU, and Marshall University in an effort to do precisely what he talked about during his address: create a better West Virginia for West Virginians.

Gee’s address lasted just under 25 minutes Monday afternoon.

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