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Gee returns to WVU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- At his first public appearance as the incoming president of West Virginia University, new interim president E. Gordon Gee characterized his return to the school as a homecoming.

Gee got his start as a university president at WVU in 1981, and in the 33 years since has amassed experience in administrative positions at five major universities.

On Tuesday, at a meet-and-greet on WVU's campus, Gee acquitted himself like a seasoned veteran of university administration: he wore his signature bow tie in blue and gold, cracked jokes to riotous laughter in a display of his well-documented good humor and waxed poetic on WVU's position in the academic world and in West Virginia.

"I believe it is the job of the university president to set the tone, maintain momentum and to tell a great story," he said Tuesday in a meeting with press.

University officials have touted Gee as a president who marries national clout--he was once named by TIME as one of the top 10 university presidents in the country--with a fondness and familiarity with WVU and West Virginia.

Gee himself reaffirmed that notion Tuesday, saying he sees this return to WVU as a way to revisit the institution that launched his career.

"This is a very important moment for me," he said to a crowd of well wishers Tuesday at the reception in his honor. "It's the closing of a circle in my life that is so very meaningful."

His agenda for his presidency -- which will last just over one term, from early January until just before the beginning of the fall 2014 semester -- is largely abstract and ideological. He acknowledges that one semester isn't much time -- probably not enough to significantly alter the course of the university, or to revisit pet projects from his first round as WVU's president.

I think that there is one thing that I tried to work on when I was president and was not terribly successful at: I think that the power of a university is that we are one university but we are not a collection of colleges connected by a heating plant," he said. "We're not a vertical institution but we're very horizontal."

As far as making concrete steps toward solidifying that concept, Gee doesn't have a plan, but he hopes that when people think of his second tenure at WVU, they'll think that "he came, he cared, he made a difference" -- a sentiment that garnered a round of applause from the Board of Governors that appointed him.

Tom Flaherty, vice chairman of the BOG, said the board hopes that Gee's high profile will help draw high-quality candidates to WVU for the long-term president position, which they will be working to fill in the coming months.

"We did not want someone who was a placeholder, we wanted someone who can hit the ground running and we wanted someone with that national recognition and expertise, that I think will enhance the candidate pool for people who are going to come in and succeed him," he said.

"We're committed to the search, we're ready to roll up our sleeves and get it done and it's something that is going to take a lot of time and a lot of thought."

Of the whirlwind climate within WVU's administration of late-since Clements announced his departure in November, and up to the selection of a new president this summer -- Provost Michele Wheatley said the school is well equipped to handle it.

"At a large university like this transition is the norm. We always have some level of transition," she said.

"Of course it's very important when it's at the very top ... but getting Gordon is like getting a holiday present very early. To get one of the top presidents in the United States to become my immediate supervisor is just wonderful news for me."


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