President Clements Q&A
July 9, 2009
Mike Casazza: Obviously you’re the president now, but you worked many years to become a doctor. Provided this goes well, the next time I see you, how do I say “Hello?” Is it Doctor or President Clements?
President Clements: I go by Jim.
MC: Jim? Interesting. Why that?
PC: That’s my name, you know? My guess is if we were in a formal setting – graduation or giving a speech – someone would introduce me as President Clements. That’s OK. But, you know, I’m just like you. You’re “Mike.”
MC: So if I see you at a football game on the sideline?
PC: You would not insult me if you said, “Hey, Jim, how’s it going?” I’d say, “Mike, it’s going great.” But if you also said, “Hello, President Clements, I’d say, “Hello, Mike, how’s it going?”
MC: Doctor is a very important title to many people.
PC: It’s something that you earn.
MC: That’s what I’m saying. It’s something you work for and not just to put in the front of your name.
PC: It is something you work very hard for. It’s interesting, and it’s not sports related, but the minute I became a freshman undergraduate at UMBC, the professor walked in my very first class and a light bulb went off. I knew I wanted to be a professor. I didn’t exactly know what a professor was, but something told me, “This is what I should do in life.” At that point I started working to make sure I had the right graduate degrees, the Ph.D., so I could be successful in the classroom and do research. So, yeah, it’s absolutely part of who I am. In fact, I always tell people I started in the classroom and that’s where I’ll end my career. I certainly don’t mind doing the administrative stuff and I really like the leadership roles, but when I’m finished, I’ll be back in the classroom teaching and doing research. It’s something you earn. It’s something you work hard to achieve.
MC: So how did this job first grab attention?
PC: In the last six years I served two different vice president roles at Towson and Towson is a wonderful institution. We did some very cool things. We were pretty much at a low point six years ago after the President, who was only there about nine months, resigned up to the point now where that university is at an all-time high by almost any measure you can come up with. We were on a lot of people’s radar screens as a university moving forward. In the leadership role I was in, I was on people’s radar screens. I would get the calls and e-mails. But I got an e-mail and this one literally said “Dear Jim.” Usually it says “Dear Provost Clements” or “Dear Dr. Clements” or “Dear James” and then “We have a position. We’re contacting you.” This one said “Dear Jim,” and I thought “Well, this one’s a little different, a little interesting.” It was from Gene Budig, who was running the search, and he said, “Hey, you’ve been nominated for this position. We’d like to talk to you.” I filed it away, like, “Hey, it’s West Virginia University. That’s huge.” So I filed it away and said I’d follow up. Then I got a call and he said, “Hey, you’ve been nominated. We’d like to talk to you if you’re interested.” This was simply too big and special to pass up. So I ended up submitting my materials and the next thing you know I have an interview, then it’s a smaller group, then a smaller group, then a smaller group and then I’m standing up in front of the community, which was pretty cool.
MC: There had been some notoriety for a while when you look at your predecessor and Heather Bresch, some pretty contentions things with coaches and buyout clauses. It wasn’t always the best reputation. Did that register with you? Obviously there was more to the job, but was that part of your thinking when you first considered this?
PC: It was interesting. Most of us that serve in a leadership role in higher education follow the national scene and know what’s happening at universities. We know who’s doing good things and when there are issues because it’s in the daily e-mails we get from the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and University Business Daily. So I’d followed from the neighboring state what was happening here. But the fact is this university has been around a very long time. All universities have points when they hit a bump in the road and may struggle for a while. It doesn’t mean it’s not a good institution. It doesn’t mean the future’s not going to be great, but I think it provides an opportunity and this was a place I wanted to be to make a difference. I think here we can make a difference.
MC: But with some of those negative things, how did you process it? No situation is ideal if there’s a sudden opening, but those were pretty big issues that were around almost parts of two years.
PC: Yeah, but what it really means is it’s time to move forward, time to start focusing on a 10-year vision or a 20-year vision. You know, what happened 18 months ago or 22 months ago or whatever it is, that’s done. Now it’s, “All right, who do we want to be? Let’s talk about academics. Let’s talk about athletics. Let’s talk about new research programs. Let’s talk about partnerships with companies.” That’s what becomes fun. I think this campus and this community is very much ready to start looking 10 and 20 years down the road. So, no, looking at those things didn’t scare me off. People can look at it and say, “This university had a tough time for a year or two,” but all universities have had tough times. A good leader has to come in and say, “You know what? We’re moving forward.” Those things didn’t deter me all.
MC: Or you wouldn’t be here.
MC: You mentioned the previous situation at Towson with the president being there nine months. I’m not completely familiar with the particulars, but it’s at least somewhat similar with what happened here at West Virginia. Do you find yourself going back to that time? It’s a different role, but you’ve been in the middle of something like that, which has to have been useful for you.
PC: I wasn’t in the middle of it. I was kind of on the sideline watching it. One thing we did was put a new president in place and I served as his right-hand man for six years in two different roles. I led the strategic planning for our university. Our view was we’re going to bring a lot of very positive energy and we’re going to lift up the campus from where it is and get everyone excited to be here again. There was a point at Towson where they didn’t want to wear their Towson hats out because we got bad press and people didn’t feel that good. The morale was low. I think now the morale is as high as it’s ever been on that campus. There are some parallels, I think, with what happened here and what we can do. I think the big part is getting everyone excited about being here and knowing this is a good place to be and we do have a good future.
MC: What other memories or impressions of West Virginia did you have, whether it’s scholastics or sports, that when you got that e-mail made your eyes bulge and think, like you said, it’s too special to pass up?
PC: I’ll give you two pieces. One is what I felt when I got the e-mail and what I’ve felt since I took the job. Getting the email, this is one where if I was going to leave Towson – and I was pretty well situated within the system at Maryland for a pretty good future – it’d take a place that’s so special, that had very big-time academics, a high-profile research program, but also a piece for that’s very important, which is athletics. I think if you look around the country there’s not a university in the country that means more to its state than West Virginia University. We have a huge impact on this state. I think people at this university very much know that we drive economic development. We drive what happens in the community. We’re engaged across every county across the state. We understand extension and outreach. This university gets it. For me, this had everything. You sit there and say, “Wow, this university is known for national research programs, quality academics, but also high-visibility sports, which brings great awareness about other things on camps. It helps recruiting. It helps recruiting faculty. It helps marketing. The other thing, the other piece is the people of this state, and this is a true story. After I got the job, people would come up to me and give me hugs and say, “Welcome home.” I would say, “Well, I was actually born in Arlington, Va. I wasn’t born in West Virginia.” They said, “No, no, no. Welcome home.” I said, “Well, actually I never really lived in West Virginia. I’ve been in the Baltimore area the last 40 years.” They said, “No, now you’re one of us. Welcome home.” It’s actually pretty cool the people are that warm and welcoming. For me, coming with four kids, I wanted to make sure it was a place I could raise the kids, where everyone would be happy and a family-oriented town. It has everything.
MC: In general about sports, are you a guy who sits on the couch on Saturday to catch a game? Can we expect to see you on the sideline or in the stands at a game? What will you do beside be the guy at the top of the flow chart here?
PC: If I was in a different role, I would probably be on my couch Saturday watching games because I love sports. But on Saturday, if there’s not a big university event, I’m watching my kids’ sports because they all play. I’m at softball games, field hockey games, basketball games. I was at football games when my son played. If you went back and saw me at Towson, I was literally on the sideline for football games. I wasn’t there full-time, even though I love watching the game, because I was entertaining donors and partners and guests as I’d do in my role. I absolutely love sports, but it’s not all about football games. I’ll be at basketball games. I’ll be at women’s basketball games. I’ll be at gymnastics matches. They’re all important.
MC: Provost and president are slightly different, maybe even significantly different, but of all the stuff that happened at Towson, you were given a lot of credit for facilities and fundraising for athletics. Can you go over that and explain how people here might look at that and feel optimistic about the future. Just talking to people at the (Mountaineer Athletic Club), they’re excited about what’s next.
PC: There are some great people at the MAC. It’s interesting, in my two vice president roles the role I served in terms of economic development and community outreach is very similar to what a president does. I was out forming business partnerships. I was raising money. I was working on economic development initiatives. In the provost role I served as the chief academic officer of the institution. All academic programs, deans, faculty chairs were under me. The blend was actually very, very good. I think it’s very unique. You’re not going to find a lot of that across the country. The majority of presidents come from a provost past. You need to understand how the inside works with academics and what drives faculty and the quality of academic programs. At Towson, we had a great team. I was lucky to help the president build his team, to build a team in two different divisions. Those things you say were tied back to me, I was in some way, shape or form involved, but it always takes a team of people to make it happen. But, yeah, we brought in some good money, we formed some good partnerships and I think we increased the level of excitement on campus. We’re going to do the same thing here.
MC: You have ideas for the MAC and the Foundation already?
PC: I’ve got to sit and meet with the MAC. I’ve met with the Foundation CEO Wayne King. I know several of the people in the MAC. One thing that I think is this university looks at revenue. You have state revenue and revenue from the tuition. Most universities look at those two things: “We need money from the state. We need money from the students. Money from the state. Money from the students.” The reality is there is money from the federal government, money from private partnerships, money from auxiliary service, money from entrepreneurial activities. We’ve got to focus on some of those areas. I’ve already been down to Washington a couple times, been to Charleston and met with several companies I think we can bring in as partners and, as you know, most companies have interest in not only the academic and research side, but the athletics side as well.
MC: Good stuff about the past. Now a little about the future. The Athletic Director situation. You know Eddie’s situation come June 30 and then July 1. How does that look and what do you have planned?
PC: It’s one of those things where in the next couple of weeks we’ll sit down and talk. We haven’t sat down and had a serious “What’s the future like?” talk yet. I’m in the mode right now where I’m learning all I can about the institution, learning about the academic programs, learning about the research programs and learning about the extension programs. Athletics is one I know an awful lot about because I’ve followed WVU football for many, many years and because I love the Big East and followed Maryland in the ACC and Towson in the CAA, but Eddie and I will sit down and start talking about what the future might be. I know there’s an agreement already in place. I’ve got to get his opinion and the opinion of some other people and then really study the situation.
MC: So it’s evolving, there’s no definite plan?
PC: No, but I’ll keep you posted. Feel free to check in because a decision will be made.
MC: But as for going one direction or the other, not yet?
PC: It’s a decision that has to be made.
MC: Whoever is A.D., another issue right away they’ll have to deal with is the football series with Marshall because it expires in a couple years. I’m sure you’ve followed some of the things the sides are saying. What’s your stance?
PC: The series ends in 2012, right? I think we’ve played four times and it’s five home and two away. I figure someone is going to ask me that question as president, but I’m not going to get involved with the details of each entity in our operation. I’m not going to go to a dean and tell that dean who he or she should hire. With the Marshall series, the A.D. is going to have a lot of say in that. I’m sure I’m going to be asked for my opinion on that. I think in terms of for the state and for the people, some people want to see that game happen. Other people don’t want to see that game happen. That’s another one where I need to get a little more information about the rivalry. I know it’s a good rivalry and in general I like intrastate rivalries. I always sit and watch Virginia-Virginia Tech, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Arizona State-Arizona. Those are fun to watch. Here, I need to assess what’s the impact on the university, what’s the impact on the state and what’s Eddie’s opinion. Not just do we play, but is it 1-for-1, 5-for-2, 2-for-1? What’s the framework of the series?
MC: It’s delicate, too, because you have to balance the significance of the rivalry and also how the finances are important.
MC: So can you go 1-for-1, only 2- for 1, can you go outside 2-1 or is that all still being explored?
PC: It’s still being explored. I’d probably ask Eddie. He’s the right person to ask that question because he’s the AD – but I’m sure he’s going to tell you 2-for-1.
MC: Would that be a part of the interview process with the A.D., if it does get to that, about how they philosophically feel about the series?
PC: Yeah, because it’s an important question.
MC: You mentioned following the Big East and West Virginia football for many years. There are a lot of regional rivalries. Do you have an ideal nonconference schedule for football because that’s become such a big issue? Are there teams West Virginia should play or that you’d like to see on the schedule, either as a fan or president?
PC: Well, there’s one. I clearly wanted to see Maryland-WVU and we have four games coming up with the 2-for-2. It’s interesting because if you look at the WVU alumni magazine and stuff you find on Web pages, they say the three biggest rivalries historically are Pitt and the Backyard Brawl, Maryland and Penn State. I think having Maryland on the schedule again is pretty cool. It’s a quality ACC team. Penn State would be very hard to get on the schedule because they’re in the Big Ten and they have only so many outside games they can play, but that would actually be a pretty interesting matchup. I like next year opening at LSU. You can’t get much bigger than that. And then them coming up here is huge. I think Michigan State was a good add from the Big Ten. UNLV to get seen out west I think was a pretty good addition. I’d like to see Clemson on there or Virginia Tech on there. I think those would be good additions. What do you think? What would you pick if you have one or two?
MC: I think you have to keep it regional because it’s so important. Ideally you’d have Penn State because that would excite a lot of the current fans and fire up some of the older fans. Maryland’s a big one. I think Virginia Tech would be big and if you can’t get Virginia Tech then, because of how important that region’s become, try to get Virginia. You have to look at other conferences, too, because when you get to the end it’s about what the conferences have done. Who did this conference beat? Who did this conference beat? That’s why an SEC team would always good or a Big Ten. If you could get a Pac-10 team, imagine the exposure. There’d be, what, two-thirds of the country that hardly ever sees you. Oregon or UCLA would be neat.
PC: I think that’s probably why UNLV was added. Not because of that conference, but because it’s a West Coast team. But the Pac-10 would be huge. UCLA? That’d be a good matchup.
MC: But that’s another league, like you talked about with the Big Ten, that can only play so many games outside the league. It’s a weird thing. Scheduling is done so many years in advance now and you don’t know who’s going to be good in 2014.
PC: That’s when you start talking scheduling now, five years out. You don’t know they’re going to be good. I hope we’re very good. But you know what, you mentioned it. If you asked me to order them, clearly you’ve got to have Penn State on there. You’ve got to have Virginia Tech. Virginia would be a great. I still think Maryland was a very good, solid addition and clearly I have a lot of friends in Maryland, so I want to see that rivalry. I want to enjoy a WVU victory. We’ve done pretty well against Maryland.
MC: Pretty good series the last few years.
PC: Great series.
MC: What about the size of the Big East? People like the four-and-four home-road games. If you have nine teams, you can have that split every year. But with eight, you can’t. Is there a way to expand?
PC: First, we’ve got great teams and the conference is good. It’s good academically. You look at schools like Pitt, schools like Syracuse and Louisville. They’re very good schools and also great competition in football. We’re talking football, not basketball. We know how good basketball is with three No. 1 seeds out of four teams. No one’s brought to my attention the fact that maybe we should add a ninth team. Then the question would be, “OK, if that’s the right thing to do because we’ll have four home and four away games, who would be right for the ninth team?” I’m sure that is something the A.D.’s in the conference have kicked around.
MC: I’m sure once you sit at the table with some of them it’ll come up.
PC: Yeah, but you also know and read what was in the paper about the Big Ten potentially wanting to expand, so …
MC: You wonder where they’ll get that team from.
PC: You saw the three names on the table.
MC: So you might have no choice but to expand sometime soon.
PC: Right, but I’d love to see the conference stay in tact. It’s a great conference.
MC: Especially on the basketball side.
PC: Oh, my gosh. On the basketball side, I’m sure you know, but following Maryland and the ACC, when the teams came from the Big East to the ACC, it was, like, “All right, how is this going to affect the Big East?” Well, it became a powerhouse.
MC: Mandatory president question: Playoff or bowl system?
PC: I don’t know enough to answer it, to tell the truth. The current system seems to work pretty well. That’s one where I need to sit down with the other presidents in the Big East and get their opinion. They probably know a little more than I do about it. If you want to ask me that question maybe three months from now I can give you a better answer. The end of the season or Week 10, ask me then because I can probably give you a better answer. Right now the system does work well and the reason why I think the system is in place is it allows the student-athletes to study for finals and finish classes before the bowls. If you have a playoff, all of a sudden that changes the dynamics a little bit.
MC: How about the way Congress gets involved in this and tries to do something about the BCS? You’re deferring to people who know more about the situation than you. Well, what is congress going to know as opposed to actual administrators and presidents and people like that? Is that a situation where one can eventually help the other to reach a common ground or is it going to be a big debate every year?
PC: It’s been a debate my whole life. I’m 45 and I’ve been following football probably since I could walk. It’s been debated for decades and my guess is that’ll continue. But, as you know, everyone loves March Madness. Why can’t it work in December? But again, we need to understand the affect on academics, we need to understand the affect on revenue. There are so many questions about scheduling classes. There are a lot of pieces that go into that puzzle.
MC: You could shorten the season.
PC: You could, but then you’ve got to look at that revenue side. I don’t know that I have an answer to that one.
MC: What about coaching salaries and their general state?
PC: To tell the truth, I haven’t seen the salary numbers here being in Day Six, but I think looking nationwide there are some salaries that are pretty darn high. We’ve got to understand we’re here to teach our students; we’re here to make a difference in the classroom first. If all of a sudden athletics becomes a drain on academics, then that would become an area of concern. You know only a couple universities run their athletic program in the black and we’re one of the very few. That’s rare. If all of a sudden you have salaries that are incredibly high and you look at the rest of the staff and faculty on campus and they’re in a different category, then yeah, it’s something that needs to be looked at.
MC: How so? Obviously you pride yourself on academics and research and the general reputation you have, but you have to look at who pays the bills. That’s hard to balance.
PC: It’s very hard to balance. You want to get big coaches who are going to bring big money in, big visibility in. I’ll give you a great example. I sat last December and watched the Meineke Car Care Bowl. I watched the Mountaineers beat UNC-Chapel Hill in a great game, as you know. I turned the channel a couple hours later and West Virginia University was at Ohio State University, which was undefeated at the time, in basketball and we crushed them. You have to sit there and think “What’s the marketing value of this to the campus to have two huge wins for recruiting students, for recruiting faculty, for recruiting administrators?” There’s a significant dollar value. This year we’re on ESPN how many times? Like, five? There is value to that. Good coaches are hard to find, which means a smaller pool and salaries go up.
MC: They’re hard to keep, too, because they become popular. That has been a problem here. What’s the key to retaining coaches? Not attracting them, but when you get a good one here and he or she grows and does great things to build a program to make sure he or she doesn’t go to a Michigan or a Penn State or somewhere else. Sometimes that looks like a blemish on what’s otherwise a good system of hiring coaches.
PC: That’s also one where I’ll refer you to the A.D. I can say what I think about star faculty members and keeping and retaining deans and department chairs. You’re going to have to find the right incentives, the right research supply funds or the starter packages to recruit them, but star faculty is sometimes as hard to keep as a star coach. We have research faculty members who bring in millions and millions of dollars and national recognition. It has to do with the work environment and making sure they’re valued and given the support they need to be successful. It’s really no different than it is with coaches. What they need probably isn’t much different. They need assistant coaches paid at the right level, certain abilities to recruit, a weight room. All those things faculty members need like research labs and associate research professors with them are very similar. That’s when it becomes that unit leader’s job to make sure we keep the best.
MC: One way people keep coaches is with liquidated damage clauses — buyouts — which has been a big issue here. What’s your position on that?
PC: I don’t know enough about them to answer that, to tell the truth. I really don’t. I have a series of things — dozens and dozens of things I have to look at — and that’s one. I have to see some of the situations and what happened and if it was the right thing to do, how the contract was worded, could it have been worded different in future contracts? Again, on many of these things, check back in a month and I’ll give you a better answer.
MC: It seems like people on one side like to use the penalty to keep a coach or to keep a school from firing a coach, though.
PC: But it’s worked into every contract. They work them in.
MC: It sounds like part of this is one of the many things you do will be looking at contracts, studying them and thinking about how in your term a contract will look. Is that something you’d like to put your stamp on?
PC: I’ll give you my style. The first thing I’m going to do is go to the A.D. and say I want a briefing on what a contract looks like, what have we promised, what clauses are in the contract, what are the terms, bonuses, buyouts, all those things and then sit down to see if there is any other way we can do it and maybe do it better.
MC: You’ve mentioned keeping faculty and even coaches by having the right labs and facilities. There are a lot of facility projects right now for just athletics. Do you have an order of importance for them?
PC: One thing I asked our facilities team for last week was a list of projects we have in queue, do we have the money and give me the priorities. You know about the basketball practice facility. I actually asked for numbers on how much money was raised, how much money we have in hand, how much money has been pledged and when it’s right to launch the project. I don’t have the numbers yet. I asked for them Friday and I think I’ll have them by the beginning of next week. It’s one of those things where there’s a point where we can launch a project when we have enough money and I think to this institution and to the friends of the institution that’s an important project.
MC: What do you think of money pledged versus money raised? There’s a difference people probably don’t understand in this situation.
PC: There is a difference, especially in a very hard economic time. Having cash in hand and in pocket is different than having cash pledged, but there is a way to assess when it’s time to launch the project based on cash in hand and legitimate pledges we know are going to come through. The rest is money to be raised. When Towson launched Johnny Unitas Football Stadium, we didn’t have all the cash in hand. We knew we had to go out and raise the rest of the money, but we did. So here there’s going to be a point where we need to see the numbers. We need to see what the percentage is in terms of cash in hand and what the percentages is in terms of pledges compared to the total project cost.
MC: When I talked to Eddie not long ago, he was pretty set on having 80 percent in hand, which seems steep, but that’s they number they want to work with.
PC: It’s pretty steep. I’ve seen projects go anywhere from where they need to have 65 percent to people who wait until they have 100 percent raised. It’s not uncommon to launch a project where you have about 75 percent. But it’s one where it needs to be studied. We’re in a very difficult economic situation compared to where we were a couple years ago.
MC: Is the basketball practice facility atop the list for athletics?
PC: I don’t have the list from Eddie, but that’s the one everyone keeps bringing to my attention, so I’m assuming yes. But also another way to look at it is as not just an athletics project. The reason why I’m being told we need the basketball practice facility is because the current facility is used pretty much around the clock — not around clock but during the day during usable hours — because we have academic programs in there, we have athletic programs in there and there’s a battle for practice time and academic time. So if all of a sudden you have a basketball practice facility, that frees up academic time where the current basketball practices take place. There is an academic gain by having the basketball practice facility because then you have more available hours than the current space. So, yeah, it’s a priority project.
MC: Final one. We do this a year from now and the first question is, “How do you feel about what you’ve done in your first year?” Maybe it’s not a specific thing, but a general philosophy or attitude. Or maybe it is a specific thing. What’s the answer to that question?
PC: I think two things have to be accomplished in the first year. The first is the process of building a leadership team. We’re in the process of hiring a chancellor for the Health Sciences Center, which is a critical position, the person who runs the medical school and hospitals. We’re hiring a provost to run the entire academic enterprise. We’re getting ready to launch a search for the (vice president) for legal. These are critical positions for us. So the first thing is building the leadership team. The second is exactly what you talked about. It’s a philosophy. It’s creating a vision for the future and starting to get people excited for when we think about WVU in 2020. When others look at us, what do they see? Who do we really want to be? I think people are very excited to have the opportunity to add some input into the future. I think if you walk across campus, there are some pretty excited people who say, “You know what? We’re looking ahead. There’s good energy. The attitude is positive. We don’t want to look back. We’re not going to be in a position anymore where we’re kind of hurt or the university doesn’t feel as good about itself as it could.” This is a great university and I think the people are really starting to feel good again. We’ve got stability now. We’re moving forward. Those become the big things.