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Marshall University President Brad D. Smith, center, is presented a kelly green jacket by Board of Governors Chairman Patrick Farrell, right, and Vice Chairman Toney Stroud on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

The Brad Smith era has begun at Marshall University, and the new president said the right things on his first official day on the job.

The former Fortune 500 CEO and Kenova native said he hopes to build on Marshall’s international brand, “tremendous” student body and faculty, and strong programs. He wants to make Marshall’s curriculum more market-driven and future-focused, increase accessibility to classes — both online and via employer sites — and make the university distinctive from others.

That’s an ambitious program packed into fewer than 50 words, but those words are the ones the Marshall community, the Tri-State area and southern West Virginia need to hear. Each key word — brand, curriculum, market-driven, future-focused, accessibility, online, distinctive — is worth a long discussion on its own.

Much has changed in higher education in general and Marshall in particular since Smith graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree in 1986. Marshall can’t go back to the old ways. The basic principles of old-school higher education remain, but how they are delivered and the people delivering them have changed. The market has changed. A new generation of students has different expectations than what Smith’s generation had.

University officials said Smith began his first day in his Old Main office before dawn, where he reviewed the upcoming schedule with his transition team. He also made the rounds of talking with state and federal officials, and he met with senior administration officials at Marshall.

Partly through its own growth and partly through default as other major employers downsized or went out of business, Marshall is now the major economic force in this region. No longer is it a little school surrounded by smokestacks. It plays on the national stage now. In this economy, you expand or you contract. There is little room for enterprises that do neither. You adapt or you go out of business. It can be sudden or it can drag on, but it will happen.

Marshall is relevant in this area, but it must grow its circle of relevance to take in more of the state and the nation. Now this region will see how Smith accomplishes that mission. May he excel.

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