CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In Ed Welch's office at the University of Charleston, there are two framed photos — aerial shots of the school's main campus.
One shows the school as it was in the 1970s and '80s; the other shows it today.
"It's interesting to think I was here when all of this happened," Welch said, gesturing to the second, more recent, photo.
There was a noticeable difference between the two versions of campus: the recent photo carries evidence of an ambitious building plan that's unfolded at UC over the last two decades — eight new buildings in 16 years.
And Welch has overseen all of that. This year marks his 25th at UC — he came to the school in 1989 — an eternity for a university president (the average tenure among sitting presidents is eight and a half years).
Sitting in the president's office at UC recently, the spot on campus that he has occupied for a quarter-century now, Welch chuckled at the thought that he'd spent all this time at UC.
"You don't realize it," he said. "You think about a project that you're doing over a year or a couple of years and then you transition and begin another one. There are some moments when you look back and think there's no way it can have been 25 years, and other moments you get perspective and can't believe it's only been that long."
"You can put on different glasses and get different reflections," he said, and paused. "Probably I could use a better metaphor there, but you understand."
Welch uses a lot of metaphors in conversation. He's well spoken and engaging, with a quick wit and a subtle sense of humor.
By now his impressive resume — a decade in administrative positions at a handful of private colleges and another decade working in the White House part time as an intern while earning a theology degree — is well known in the UC and Charleston communities.
Now, after more than two decades in Charleston, it's his time at UC that Welch most likes to reflect on.
The university's position now is drastically different from where it was when Welch started, and he's guided it through more than one growth spurt.
"He's got a brilliant mind and he thinks ahead of the curve," said Holmes Morrison, a friend of Welch's who was on UC's board of governors when Welch came on. "It's in that capacity that I think he's been most beneficial for the university."
When Welch started at UC the university was in financial straits, and the community was fractured. In the 25 years before Welch came to the school, there had been six university presidents, and two interim presidents.
"My understanding of vision is it's the intersection between the relatively unchanging mission of the institution and the very changing environment," Welch said.
"It's like a hockey player. You've got to skate to where the puck is going to be."
On the hearth of the president's office at UC, near where Welch rests his feet when he sits at his desk, is a piece of rock that is meant to illustrate that very point. It's inscribed with one word: "Nothing."
"Because nothing is written in stone," Welch said.