CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Recently, a friend sent me several newspaper stories regarding the situation at West Virginia Tech. Although I have seen this crisis building for years, I find it hard to accept, based on my own knowledge of this fine institution.
My first contact with WV Tech was in the 1950s when I was in high school and planning to go to college. My dream was to be an engineer and I was considering VMI, the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech and WV Tech. Eventually I chose Virginia Tech, where I earned three engineering degrees.
Later, in 1966, Dr. Wendell Hardway, new president of Bluefield State College, hired me as associate professor of engineering technology and director of the college's Engineering Technology Division. While serving in Bluefield, I was impressed with the vision of Dr. Leonard Nelson for WV Tech and the quality of that institution. Later, in 1976, when I was President of Bluefield State, I admired and even envied Tech for its high-quality education and engineering programs in particular. Tech was a positive challenge for us in Bluefield.
Even in 1991, when I was at Marshall University, Tech had the only engineering program in the southern two-thirds of the state and seemed to have a positive future in the new high-tech information-based economy. But then things seemed to go downhill, and now newspaper accounts imply that this fine institution's future is in doubt more than ever before.
When I hear of a crisis, I am reminded that the Chinese character for "crisis" is made up of two other Chinese characters: those for "danger" and "opportunity." The key in a crisis situation is to identify the opportunity that is always there.
I think that there are enormous opportunities for WV Tech in the new world economy. We are in a global economy where four-year college degrees -- stretched out to five or six years with large accumulated debt -- have become an enormous burden on students, as they will soon become to institutions. In global competitor nations, graduates have bachelor's degrees that take no more than three years and two summers.
We will soon see a major demand for high-quality, low-cost, no-frills, fast-track and economically driven college degrees. Institutions that can deliver will be in high demand and will become highly successful. WV Tech can and should be a 21st century success. In my memory, that was the Tech Dr. Nelson led for so long.
Gilley of Reston, Va., was president of five colleges and universities, including Bluefield State and Marshall University. His book "Searching for Academic Excellence" was translated to Japanese, and his book "The Interactive University" was translated into Chinese.