I moved to Morgantown in 1974 to attend WVU and never left. It remains my home today, although I now live a few miles outside of town.
As a student, I was oriented to the University. The community was just a place around the University which didn’t mean that much to me. Some of us derisively referred to the place as “Morganhole.”
But after graduation, I left the world of the University and became a member of the community and my perception changed.
As a full-time resident, I was much more aware of “the students” and the problems associated with having thousands of part-time residents not vested in the community—the traffic, the trash, the parties, the occasional alcohol-fueled riotous behavior.
Still, having a major university in your community has far more positives than negatives. There are too many to list here, but for one, just imagine the condition of the local economy were it not for the school?
A study by WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research estimates that WVU spends approximately $815 million in the local economy annually. Combined with student expenditures and secondary economic activity, the total impact is $1.3 billion.
That is a significant upside.
But back to the downside, and the current controversy. Monongalia County schools and all their extracurricular activities are shut down. It is the only red county in West Virginia in the metric that determines whether to have in-person or remote learning.
The unfavorable designation is because of the University. The number of positive cases among students has pushed the cases-per-100,000 to a 7-day rolling average of 34. The next highest county is Kanawha with 22 per 100,000.
The situation has stressed town-gown relations and prompted questions about the metric. The argument is, why should public schools be punished for what is happening at the University?
A small group of Monongalia County parents rallied Saturday in support of reopening the public schools. One parent said, “Something has to happen to get these kids back in school. It’s not fair that they have to suffer and sit at home for WVU students’ mistakes.”
Meanwhile, the city of Morgantown has outlawed house parties in sections of the city were there are large student populations. University and local officials agree these gatherings, along with crowds at bars, are primarily responsible for increasing the spread of the virus.
This past weekend saw a curious and controversial juxtaposition in Monongalia County. The local school football teams could not play on Friday night because of the school shutdown, which was attributable to WVU students, but WVU student athletes were able to play in their game Saturday.
The story is more complicated than that, but there was a certain irony to the situation.
There is a reason Morgantown is called The University City. The institution and the community are intertwined in myriad ways. Most of the time, that inter-connectivity is a benefit to the community, making it richer financially and culturally.
But no relationship is perfect, and occasionally living with the University can be a real pain.