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In the face of declining enrollment and a weak cash flow, WVU Tech has been under the gun for several years. Now, school officials hope that becoming a division of WVU, a move which was slated to become official yesterday, will enable the school to prosper and adapt to better serve today’s college students. Here, construction is shown in the Maclin Hall courtyard.

MONTGOMERY — Court action filed early last week is simply too late to halt the integration of WVU Institute of Technology into a division of West Virginia University, Charles Bayless, Tech’s president-soon-to-be-provost, said Thursday.

Moreover, if a Kanawha County circuit court finds — as the Take Back Tech Committee asked it to in a filing for a writ of mandamus and restraining order Tuesday — that more diligence is necessary before the July 1 merger is allowed to proceed, Bayless predicts it would deal a crippling blow to Tech.

Bayless discussed the Take Back Tech suit during an afternoon in which he and other campus officials briefed the media and interested parties on long-needed physical improvements ongoing on the Montgomery campus, as well as future plans to continue to bolster Tech’s footing in the academic world.

“It’s done; really there’s no way to reverse it,” Bayless said of the lawsuit. “This plan was developed a year ago. They should have said something then. It’s a little late to be complaining.

“It would take a million dollars or so to unwind this thing.”

Then, if that occurred, the task of developing critical money sources to offset future budget deficits would be formidable, he said, and “massive cuts” would be necessary in Montgomery.

Bayless said the intent of the legislature was “very clear” when both the Senate and the House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly on legislation which paved the way for WVU Tech to change from a regional campus to a division of WVU. He said the legislation called for a plan to implement and provide for the transition, not for a long-term plan.

“We feel the lawsuit is totally without merit, and we will defend it vigorously.”

Furthermore, Bayless says WVU officials are not going to wash their hands of Tech once the calendar turns from June to July, as opponents of the merger allege.

“We didn’t lift a finger (for the improvements),” Bayless said. “We don’t renovate buildings, we teach.

“We had no reserves left at Tech. Nobody was doing anything about it; it was going straight downhill. They (WVU) want to see Tech grow. If they’re going to cut and run, why are they putting $10 million in a dorm (Maclin Hall)?”

Attorney Kevin Nelson, who filed the suit on behalf of the Take Back Tech group, said late Thursday no hearing had been set on the matter.

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Bayless and Dr. Jo Harris, president of the Community and Technical College at WVU Tech, were both effusive in their praise of the work WVU officials have done in recent months to try to transform the Tech campus. A highlight has been renovations at Maclin Hall — a residence hall that was erected in 1939 and has housed thousands of Tech students, including Bayless during his freshman and sophomore years as a WVIT undergraduate. A $10 million bond issue led by WVU officials created the cash flow for improvements to 193-capacity Maclin, including six private study rooms, a fitness room, an information center, refurbished bathrooms, a new elevator, new HVAC system, and Internet access for each room.

In the past year, Ratliff Hall, a nearby residence hall, was fitted with new carpet and new furniture. And, work is currently proceeding on refurbishing the school’s student center, Tech Center.

While WVU officials now have a larger hand in operations and many Tech departments already answer directly to Morgantown, Bayless and Harris both said the smaller schools will benefit from networking with the main university. “We feel we do have an advantage that no other community college (in the state) has, because of our administrative links with WVU Tech and WVU,” said Harris. “There is a broad range of expertise at our fingertips.”

“Moving toward becoming a full division of WVU has provided great benefits to our students and the WVU Tech community,” said Bayless. “We have and will have better facilities, more efficient operations, expanded academic programs and stronger student services ...”

And, Bayless stresses that Tech will keep its own academic identity intact. To that end, there are no plans to merge Tech’s Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the lone two in-state schools accredited by ABET, he said.

Other areas, including better student recruitment and retention and revamping student services, will be strengthened, he pledged.

Dr. John David, veteran chairman of the school’s social sciences department, was one of those who attended the Thursday event. While admitting that, given the choice of stepping back in time, many folks might have preferred a different route for Tech, David said, “At this point, I feel like things are moving in a good way, a progressive way. They’re obviously putting some money into the place, but there are lots of things that need to be done above and beyond what we saw today. I don’t think the resources are there for us to stand alone, though.”

Looking ahead to the fall, interest in the school appears positive, officials note. A total of 288 freshmen enrolled for August classes, as compared to 218 a year ago, and that’s with two summer registration sessions remaining. In the same scenario, the number of prospective engineering students has risen from 260 to 285. Also, financial gifts have increased markedly.

For more on Tech, visit www.wvutech.edu. Alumni or others wishing to make a donation to further campus improvements can call Kathleen DuBois or Pauline Price in the Tech Foundation office at 442-3491.

— E-mail: skeenan@fayettetribune.com

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