Council of Chairs discusses ideas to improve university


Rebecca Turnbull

President Jerome A. Gilbert speaks with faculty members at the Council of Chairs inside Drinko Library, February 4, 2016.

President Jerry Gilbert shared his ideas Thursday for raising the national prominence of Marshall University with the Council of Chairs.

Gilbert said he wants to put the most emphasis on increasing and maintaining student enrollment in the university through a new marketing campaign that is currently being developed.

“I think we are still a bit of a secret to some people,” Gilbert said. “We need to better tell the story of the successes of our faculty and our students at Marshall with a very organized effort and a consistent message going forward.”

Richard Kravchak, chair of the school of music and theater, recommended Gilbert stay involved with the Council of Chairs for ideas concerning branding and the overall image of the university.

“Many of us have been frustrated with trying to get the word out and feeling like we are swimming up against the stream,” Kravchak said. “So many of us have ideas along that line.”

Gilbert said he recognizes it is important to work with the faculty to create a strategic vision for the university to increase retention rates and graduation rates to improve Marshall’s national ranking.

“I want Marshall to be the envy of the region and the nation,” Gilbert said. “A place where high school students from all over the country would think of Marshall as one of their top choices. And the national reputation of universities is really on the scholarship of the faculty and the output of the students that go out from the university.”

Gilbert said to do this, faculty and staff must stay prepared for further financial crises by prioritizing their programs and deciding which are not as successful as others.

“I think we’ve got to look at the value of different programs to the overall future of the university,” Gilbert said. “And it may be that there are some programs with low numbers that we could grow.”

Provost, Gayle Ormiston said he will meet with deans about program eliminations and will report to the president for greater university productivity.

Gilbert said the university is expected to profit from the development of important programs, especially liberal arts and STEM programs that will help to bring in students from across the country.

Daniel Holbrook, chair of the history department, said even with an increase in student enrollment, most students would still be coming from local areas with less fortunate socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Those students bring with them challenges to their success in college. Our best bet is through close personal attention,” Holbrook said. “There is a real need here to pay attention to the needs of the students.”

Gilbert said he would like to start a program where at-risk freshman are provided with upperclassmen peer mentors to check in with them and help them with any problems they may have, which could further help increase the retention and graduation rates.

“You’ve got to have a very strong system of support for the students, particularly those who are at risk,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said this peer system of support, along with faculty members’ involvement in supporting their students, will help to grow the university’s reputation and success in the face of possible budget cuts in the future.

Chief financial officer Mary Ellen Heuton said in the meantime, taking measures to cut less successful programs has helped the university make progress with addressing the recent budget cut, but further measures will need to be taken to ensure that progress continues into next year.

“We’re really trying to focus on a long-term plan,” Heuton said. “Maybe we need to invest some money or we need to make a change that takes a couple years to pay back but we want to do something other than trying to just fill the hole each year.”

Gilbert said he plans to address the budget issue by making fundraising one of his top priorities and seeking private donors to provide additional funding to the university during his first years in office.

Gilbert will be traveling to Washington, D.C. next week to meet with consultants and congresspersons to better position the university and seek resources for bringing in additional dollars and increasing research funding.

Rebecca Turnbull can be contacted at [email protected].