Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Changing Times at Virginia Tech

By Justin Cates

Last week, Virginia Tech President Dr. Charles Steger announced his retirement after more than thirteen years at the helm.

Steger oversaw a period of unprecedented growth in Blacksburg.

He spearheaded a fundraising effort that brought in $1.1 billion, increased enrollment to over 31,000 students and facilitated more than 2.5 million square feet of new building space on campus.

Steger oversaw the establishment of a medical school as well as an increase in sponsored research from $192 million to $450 million. He fostered research partnerships with many top universities but most importantly, he helped guide the community through unthinkable tragedy.

Unfortunately, plenty of people will fail to see past the cloud of the April 16th shootings and what many consider to be the university's sluggish response in the immediate aftermath of that life-changing event.

I've always viewed that as the worst kind of armchair quarterbacking by the media and much of the public.

It's true that there was no effective alert system in place to warn students of a dangerous and rapidly developing situation, but the main reason those systems presently exist at colleges nationwide is because of that painful Monday morning six years ago.

It could have happened anywhere—and sadly it has several times since—that particular tragedy just happened to strike the greatest small town in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

President Steger was a source of strength and a powerful voice in the days that followed.

The convocation the day after the shootings will always remain as a vivid and cathartic release for myself and thousands of others, and Dr. Steger's words were a large part of it.

Like the man himself, his speech was simple and dignified. When he walked up to the podium 10,000-plus grieving Hokies rose in unity and cheered to buoy the spirits of a man who admitted he desperately needed it.

The ovation for him was longer than that for President George W. Bush and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. It was a sign of respect for a man under unthinkable strain and a gesture of love for a true Hokie.

Charles Steger graduated from Virginia Tech in 1969 and never left. He has served his university community in every possible way and risen above the call of duty when it was needed most.

His retirement marks the beginning of a period of considerable change for Virginia Tech.

The board of visitors will appoint a new President, and that man or woman will soon hire a new Athletic Director as current AD Jim Weaver will retire when his contract expires in 2015.  

That new director will have the monumental task in the coming years of finding a new football coach.

Yes Frank Beamer is still around, but he will turn 67 this fall and he knows what can happen to football coaches who stick around too long. He will do his best in the next few seasons to bring an elusive national championship to his alma mater, but he will not stay if he thinks someone else can be more effective.

These three men have served Virginia Tech to the best of their abilities and have put the university in a position to have enviable success for generations to come.

It's sad to see them go—though many (myself included) won't weep for Mr. Weaver's departure—but they've all earned some leisure time and then some.

Jim Weaver's legacy will be mixed, but he's done a lot to improve the athletic department.

I've had the privilege of meeting all three and it's hard to imagine a group of individuals more dedicated to their university and the community at large. They've made tough choices and acted as we all hope we would if given the opportunity to face such far-reaching decisions.

Their predecessors will have enormous shoes to fill.

Here's hoping they can approach the impressive legacy set before them and continue to invent the future.

Frank Beamer hopes his program is in a good place for  several major transitions.

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