OGDEN -- Weber State University and Charles A. Wight finally made it official, Tuesday afternoon, with his inauguration as WSU president.
Wight, better known as Chuck to his associates and student body alike, was given his investiture and charge by Bonnie Jean Beesley, chair of the state Board of Regents. Witnesses included Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and top officials from state education, Weber State and other area universities.
"Welcome, everyone," said Wight, who has been serving as president since January. "Thank you for joining me in this wonderful celebration."
Wight spoke to officials and an audience that filled the Austad Auditorium. He talked about the challenges that face higher education, and his priorities for navigating the university into a healthful future.
"Dark clouds loom on the horizon, and the ground is shifting rapidly in higher education," Wight said. "Many believe that the business model of higher education is broken, and if we ignore these warning signs, we risk closing the door to students' dreams. We are in the midst of a great Information revolution. Its scale has been matched only a couple of times in human history, first by the Agricultural Revolution and then by the Industrial Revolution.
"The most obvious result of the current revolution is that vast amounts of data and information now lie literally in the palms of our hands, and this creates huge opportunities on a global scale. Practically every major industry has been disrupted by the direct and indirect effects of the Internet, computing and mobile communications technologies. The industries hit hardest have been in the knowledge industry, particularly journalism and book publishing."
Wight called universities the center of today's "knowledge industry."
"For hundreds of years, we have served as creators, curators, and disseminators of knowledge for the world. But the Internet has enabled a profound democratization of information, and the roles that we play in higher education must shift and adapt if we are to survive."
In a world of online tutorials and college-level classes, Wight said some may ask where WSU fits in.
"Some might even question if we fit into all of this," he said. "Of course we do."
Wight said teaching critical thinking is more important then ever, "... because as you might have noticed, not everything you read on the Internet is true."
Wight outlined his five priorities for his WSU tenure:
* Keeping college affordable, especially for low-income students, was the first. Wight called for partnerships between Utah's universities and government. Universities must hold the line on costs, and the state must continue to fund at least 50 percent of the cost of higher education for Utah residents.
Wight announced an expansion of the Dream Weber (www.weber.edu/dreamweber) scholarship program, which will now provide scholarships to students with a household income of $40,000 or less, up from the original $25,000 and this fall's limit of $30,000.
"Our message to students is, 'If you come to WSU willing to work hard and committed to learning, we'll help you with the rest,'" he said.
* Priority two is increasing diversity to better reflect the community.
"The deepest, most meaningful learning is achieved when people who have different backgrounds, experiences, cultures and beliefs gather and have respectful conversations about our differences," Wight said. "The reputation of this great institution for both educational excellence and community leadership hinges on our ability to open the door to dreams for everybody."
* Priority three is to maintain beautiful and sustainable campuses. Wight noted various projects, initiatives and newly constructed buildings that already support the priority. Securing state funding for a state-of-the-art science lab building is a big part of the goal, Wight said.
"Thanks to $3.5 million in funding provided by the Legislature last year, the design process is now well under way."
* Priority four is "to work with our faculty to reimagine the way that we teach our classes, especially at the undergraduate level," Wight said. "We have a large nontraditional student population, and nearly 80 percent of our students are employed. Our students have many demands on their time, and a one-size-fits-all approach to education simply will not serve them well. We must ensure that our teaching methods inspire our students to work hard on their education and ensure successful outcomes."
Hybrid and flipped courses, in which students take greater responsibility for mastering concepts before they meet with professors, are important to WSU's future, Wight said.
* "The fifth priority of my presidency is to ensure that the bonds that connect us with our community remain strong," he said, citing sports and performing arts that draw the community to WSU, and College Town, a concept designed to task WSU to help the community feel a part of Weber State, and to interact with it through a downtown location that will soon have an official opening.
Wight also praised community partners in Davis County, including businesses and Hill Air Force Base, for helping Weber State keep academic programs in alignment with workforce needs.
"When our graduates walk out of the doors of Weber State University and into their dreams, the path to a career should be a short one."
Wight said for WSU's 125th anniversary, on Jan. 7 of next year, the university will announce the public phase of a fundraising campaign for the university. He closed his address by asking for his listeners' support.
"On the other side of each of our doorways lie endless dreams. Today represents a threshold. Let's step over that threshold together.
"Thank you, and go Wildcats."
Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.