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Gee says WVU should help rethink government 

By Janet Metzner

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University may recommend the state consolidate its counties from 55 to 30 or so, in order to create stronger, empowered entities, WVU President E. Gordon Gee said Tuesday.

“We’ve got a number of studies in the process … that we are going to make a series of recommendations about rethinking the state, because we are the idea generator” for the state, he said Tuesday during WVU Academic Media Day, held in Morgantown. “The legislators have no staff, they are constantly on the run … they don’t have enough time. That’s our blessing … and that’s what we should be doing,” he said to an audience of journalists from throughout the state who were gathered at the Erickson Alumni Center to hear some of the latest advances in WVU academics and research. “Their problem is our problem, so we need to be the solution.”

WVU’s solution includes easing the “bureaucratic nonsense” on the federal, state and university levels, and changing the state’s thought process to one of empowerment, Gee said, noting that “the woe-is-me approach is not working” for the state.

First, Gee said the state’s local governments must be streamlined, as they are inefficiently operating as if the state had a population of 3-4 million, rather than its current 1.8 million.

“We have too many school districts, we have too many counties, we have too many county commissioners. We have too many things that are just vestiges of the past,” he said.

It’s an idea that has succeeded in the Nashville area, where the city and Davidson County governments were consolidated, and are now among the top-growing areas of the country, Gee said. By consolidating, those governments created an empowered mass of population, he said.

He described WVU as the aircraft carrier that will drop to the new governor the changes that he needs to make, and let the governor know “we will take the incoming fire” that may result.

Those plans would likely include “a very clear investment strategy” that focuses primarily on public schools and infrastructure, he said, noting the state has no such investment plan. That proposed plan would “fundamentally change the educational system in the state,” he said.

The goal would be to revitalize the state by retaining West Virginia natives, and recruiting new residents within the state that has a flat — and aging — population. Those residents, including those educated in West Virginia who want to stay, could help ease the state’s growing work-training deficit, a problem that is evidenced by the 20,000 to 30,000 unfilled jobs in the state, Gee said.

“We don’t have a jobs deficit, as much as we have a training deficit, and we need to get at that issue,” he said.

The university faces challenges to accomplishing these goals, beginning with bureaucracy at the university itself. WVU is the top employer in the state, and Gee said “the bureaucracy at the university is stifling.”

“I mean, we are the worst bureaucrats,” he said, describing WVU as a system of “towers and silos,” harboring the attitude that “my work is most important.” He’d rather see everyone working toward creating “community,” he said.

The university itself isn’t the only challenge that WVU faces in effecting change, Gee said.

As a land-grant institution, WVU answers to the federal government. And Gee bashed the current government, saying “the Obama administration has done horrible for our education.”

In addition, the state is ineffective at regulation, due to its “pre-audit mentality,” Gee said.

“By that, I mean they will spend $1 million to make sure someone doesn’t steal $10,000,” he said. “Rather, what we need to do is fire someone who steals $10,000, but in the meantime, we will take the $1 million and empower everyone to be able to do the things we need to move from a pre-audit to a post-audit mentality.”

Overall, Gee said the state, including its residents, need to change their commentary about the state that has a lot to offer. For example, instead of tending toward humility, residents should start by bragging about themselves, he said.

“Our humility is killing us,” he said. “What we have here is … we have one of the most beautiful spots on God’s Earth, in the eastern time zone, which is God’s time zone.”

Gee said he envisions a population that will no longer say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that we can go to Chicago, New York or Pittsburgh,’ but rather say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that they can come here?’

“We need to turn around where we’re going,” he said.

The university isn’t just telling others what to do. Rather, it’s also been working to streamline its own bureaucracy, and has published some of its own successes on its “Bureaucracy Busters” website. Visit for more information or to submit suggestions for streamlining WVU procedures.

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