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Sunday Sit-Down: Richard Beyer

September 2, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

-- We last talked in February. At that time you had just unveiled your strategic plan. How is implementation of that plan going and have you made any adjustments since releasing it?

Beyer: The five-year strategic plan was finished in late December 2011, unanimously supported by the faculty and the board of trustees. That plan began this year and runs through 2016. Most importantly, it really is a roadmap and a compass for the future. ... What we want to do is be able over the next five years adjust along the way.

The way we're implementing the strategic plan is through annual operating plans. For fiscal 2012-13 ... we've put together an operating plan of the priorities of the institution for the next year. Particularly within the strategic plan, the three areas that we'll be focusing on for this academic year are learning outcomes No. 1, job placement No. 2 and three, expansion of the Appalachian Institute.

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Every year what we'll do is add additional priorities. As we put together the strategic plan, which is very ambitious, we knew it was going to take five years to get through this entire transformation of the university. And every year, what we've done is take a look at our priorities - what we should be focused on this year, and we have our priorities for fiscal '14. ... The way that we're implementing the strategic plan is through these annual operating plans and every year we'll take on about three strategic objectives.

-- Enrollment is at a record high for the university this year.

Beyer: Yes it is.

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-- Explain the process behind that taking place.

Beyer: The strategic plan calls for us about doubling our enrollment over five years, to about 2,600 students. ... The first thing we had to do was expand our admissions department.

We doubled the size of the department last year. That allowed us to increase high school visits, and to develop new and better relationships with high schools not only in the Ohio Valley, but also across the country. ... We about tripled the number of high school visits last year and that has translated into a significantly larger freshmen class for this year.

-- Part of that enrollment deals with sports. Wheeling Jesuit will be a member of the newly formed Mountain East Conference with West Liberty University and a number of other current WVIAC schools. First, how much time and effort were expended in ensuring Wheeling Jesuit was included in the mix - your school originally was left out - and second, with WJU being the only non-football program in the new conference, do you see a time when football could be added here?

Beyer: I think the most important thing for Wheeling Jesuit is we heard about schools a couple of months ago wanting to establish a new conference. ... Most importantly for Wheeling Jesuit was to let the dust settle and see what was happening. We were actually being contacted by other conferences primarily because of the school's well-balanced approach - high academics and a very nice athletic tradition as well. So we knew we had a number of options. What happened over the last couple of months, is just through dialogue through different institutions (is that) it was important to get like-minded institutions together, those with local rivalries and tradition was important as well. But getting a well-balanced approach between academics and athletics was important, and I think at the end of the day what we found out was Wheeling Jesuit was very strong, albeit not a football-playing school, but had a very strong athletic and academic tradition.

With football, we've looked at it as part of the strategic plan. We looked at all athletics through the plan, to try to see if there were any areas we could advance, should we be looking at Division I in any particular sport teams. When it came down to football, what we thought was we wanted to address football from a position of strength. We knew we had capacity at the university, and we could have used that capacity to put a football program in, without a doubt, but we also knew ... we (could) build our university to where we need to go without football.

Getting back to potentially future decisions about football, I think we'll look at that again in the future. I think what we want to do is be in a position of strength; anything we do here, is we're trying to do the right thing and we want to be able to look at any particular athletic sport in terms of the strength of the university.

-- Wheeling Jesuit kicks off its inaugural rugby season on Sept. 8. Rugby is a sport not well known to many Ohio Valley fans. What should they expect to see if they come out to a match?

Beyer: When we look at tradition, particularly at Wheeling Jesuit where we actually played rugby in the '60s, '70s and '80s, they played it at a high level. As we were going through our strategic plan, we thought that bringing back rugby would be an important attribute for the school. That is a particular sport where we'll be playing at the Division I level - USA Rugby Division I. We will open up our season on Sept. 8 at 1 (p.m.) against WVU. Also on our schedule is Ohio State, Penn State and Maryland. So we are looking at some pretty stiff competition. But in terms of the community, I think one of the things the community will find is it to be a very social kind of sport, not only great competition. We also plan to help the community understand some of the rules and regulations of the sport. We've been very pleased with a number of athletes coming in from around the country and around the world for Wheeling Jesuit rugby, and we're looking forward to the inaugural match against West Virginia University on Sept. 8 ... here at Wheeling Jesuit.

-- You listed three priorities you're working on this year. Two were learning outcomes and job placement. Could you tell us more about what you mean about focusing on learning outcomes?

Beyer: Within the strategic plan, what we thought was important was to select a number of areas that we could become national leaders in. When we look at the landscape within higher education, and particularly at the strengths within Wheeling Jesuit, No. 1, the university being a research-oriented university. In terms of national leadership, the two areas are to be the national leader in undergraduate research participation, and the second is to be a national leader in learning outcomes. What we mean by that is really understanding what students are taking away from their college education. We know there's a lot of questions in the general public about what students are learning, how they're being prepared at colleges, and we've been told by accreditors that we're really ahead of the game on measuring student outcomes. ... So what we thought we would do is get ahead of the curve, since we were already perceived as a leader, we thought that was an important area - learning outcomes and then also ... undergraduate research.

In terms of job placement versus career development, it's really more of a conscious transition, about going beyond helping a student learn how to interview or preparing a resume, that might be an example of career development. But we then need to translate that into getting a job. What we're doing is we'll be re-staffing the ... job placement department at Wheeling Jesuit so that we're developing corporate relations, and that we're really understanding what corporations are looking for. We do now they need problem-solvers, critical thinkers, people who can get along in groups and solve problems. So now what we need to be able to do is to reach out to those employers and develop the relationships, and then upon graduation our students take either two routes: acceptance into graduate school or placement into a job.

-- You've talked about global awareness for Wheeling Jesuit and having what you referred to as a "global campus." Elaborate on that, please, especially in regard to how far along you are in accomplishing it.

Beyer: What we're focusing on is a student body from about 50 different countries. We have 24 (different countries with students at Wheeling Jesuit) this fall. ... What we want our students to be prepared for is when they leave Wheeling Jesuit, they have the critical thinking skills, they'll learn to be compassionate people, we'll develop the whole person. But as they go out, even if it's working in Wheeling, the Ohio Valley, Pittsburgh or anywhere around the country, those students are going to have to interact with people from different backgrounds. Having exposure to students from Argentina, or South Korea, or the Congo, or Spain, and really understanding those cultures and having a better appreciation for how people see things, and how people approach problems - they'll have a better appreciation and a comfort factor that we think will help them wherever they end up working.

-- Do you have any plans for future expansion at Wheeling Jesuit's main campus?

Beyer: What we did do was look at a master plan for the university as part of our strategic plan. This is a very long-term plan that would look at our buildings and our other facilities - where might a dorm go sometime in the future when the college is in a better position to address those kinds of infrastructure needs, where might a future student center go, what we might do with our athletic fields. ... But everything has to come in its due time and in the appropriate phase. We're very pleased with where we're at coming into this new academic year, but we do know it's really the first year of our five-year plan, so we have a ways to go. ... We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, this is one year at a time, focusing in on the right work that needs to be done.

-- Wheeling Jesuit, as you have emphasized, is a key part of the local community. Does that include the university being a key part of a possible downtown turnaround?

Beyer: The Wheeling community is very important to Wheeling Jesuit. In our strategic plan, one of our strategic objectives is to help strengthen the community of Wheeling. We know that in order to have a vibrant Wheeling Jesuit we need a more vibrant Wheeling community. We also see that we have some responsibility in that as a leader in the community. When we take a look at our student body, in particular our graduate and professional students who are adult students who will never live on campus. ... We are at a scarcity of living arrangements, particularly apartment living for our graduate and professional students. We thought that looking downtown in terms of graduate and professional housing, and looking at potential private-public partnerships to create such an opportunity would be very important to us. ... Although I don't see this happening in another month or two, it is a very conscious part of our strategy and we think downtown could be a very exciting part of a graduate/professional type housing environment. We've been working closed with the Regional Economic Development Partnership, but most importantly is our responsibility to the community of Wheeling. ... We believe that we have very good relations with the community and look forward to expanding them.

-- With removal of most of the buildings on the old Mount de Chantal property, its owner, Wheeling Hospital, apparently can proceed with repurposing the property. Does the university figure into that?

Beyer: The hospital owns the Mount de Chantal property, and we're developing a very nice relationship with the hospital. What we need to do is allow the hospital the opportunity to put their plans in place. Our objective is to be a resource for the hospital and to really find ways to help meet their needs. We have a very strong health science department, from nursing to nuclear medicine, respiratory therapy and physical therapy, and we think there's some natural alliances we can develop as that property gets developed.

-- Even in higher education, the bottom line has to be top priority. How's yours at the university?

Beyer: Finances for small and medium-sized universities across the country have a lot of challenges to them, particularly when colleges and universities have to rely on the stock market and external funding to balance the budget. Our challenges are really no different from a couple of hundred other small and medium sized colleges across the country. The way that we're addressing the financial challenges for this new millennium in higher education is to be able to focus in on self-funding through tuition, room, board and auxiliary revenues.

As we built our strategic plan, we looked at how we could operate the university and balance our budget without having to rely on the stock market. ... Our strategic plan calls for us to grow to 2,600 students and a big part of that has to do with going toward this self-funding concept so we can be self-reliant. When we can become self-reliant on tuition, room, board and auxiliary revenues, Wheeling Jesuit becomes very strong in terms of prospering for the next generation or two.

-- Are you satisfied with your progress to date?

Beyer: I am very satisfied. The faculty here have been just tremendous. When we talk about moving an institution forward, it is so important to have the support of the faculty. The best part of my job is working with both students and faculty. And when you have a faculty that can unanimously back your strategic plan, become a really important part of enrollment and talking to students, where there's a can-do attitude and a commitment to academic excellence, it really sets a great foundation for moving forward into the future.

-- Is there anything new on the federal investigation involving use of grant money at Wheeling Jesuit?

Beyer: I think we just have to respect the process. That's probably most important. Wheeling Jesuit has always stood behind our cost methodology, in the past as well as in the present. I think it's just important that we ... respect the process and let that take place.

-- Last question: What new programs might we expect out of Wheeling Jesuit over the next few years?

Beyer: Within the next couple of years, what we'll start to do is to look a little bit more vertically according to our schools. For example, arts and science, we would see potential opportunities in engineering at Wheeling Jesuit. I think in business, there's going to be some new opportunities to modify our MBA program, and adjust according to market. In the area of education, particularly at the master's level, additional master's program (in) educational leadership. And of course health sciences, where we're very strong, we do anticipate there would be some additional programs - a doctorate nurse practitioner, (physicians assistant), some other opportunities we see in the near term. ... What we'll try to do is allow the faculty in those four areas - arts and sciences, business, education and health sciences - to build their own strategies about programs moving forward.

 
 

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