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Clearing up the WVU misinformation

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Clearing up the WVU misinformation

Sep 13, 2023 | 5:57 am ET
By Leann Ray
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Clearing up the WVU misinformation
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West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee. (Will Price | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, last week wrote a commentary supporting West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee and the majors cuts the university is proposing after a $45 million budget deficit.

Blair claims there’s “rampant misinformation” being spread on the internet about what’s happening in Morgantown. I haven’t seen any misinformation in any of the many articles I’ve read, and claiming there’s misinformation without explaining it is typically the tactic of someone who doesn’t like what the news is reporting, but can’t prove that anything is false. 

Then on Monday afternoon, WVU sent out a news release about Gee finally addressing all of the “misrepresentations” in prepared statements to the faculty senate and it really threw a wrench into this completed column that I’ve now had to rewrite.  

“Yes, I had an aspirational systemwide enrollment goal of 40,000,” Gee said. “Never, however, did that aspirational number affect bricks-and-mortar decisions. A simple fact: we have not made a building decision based on a theoretical number.”

In 2014, Gee set his goal of 40,000 students by 2020. Here are some big money projects that took place after that:

Gee stated that the university “did not build budgets around aspirational goals. Nor did our debt load increase by 55%. Please stop citing erroneous information.”

Where did that 55% come from? It was in the resolution of no confidence, and can be traced to an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Is West Virginia U. Making Sweeping Cuts?” The article details how WVU’s debt has nearly tripled since 2008, and major projects it has taken on since Gee took over: $2.3 million for land for a recreational complex, baseball park and stadium; $8 million for Mountain State University’s former campus, then loans of $36.1 million and $42 million for start up costs and various projects; and the student housing projects mentioned above.

There is a correction on this article, but only related to the state appropriations numbers, not the university’s debt. 

The WVU administration is clearly getting upset at all the criticism they’ve been receiving, as WVU’s General Counsel Stephanie Taylor responded in an incredibly “snarky” way to a question from Rose Casey, an assistant professor in the department of English, during the same faculty senate meeting on Monday, Sept. 11.

Now let’s talk about Blair’s commentary, in which I did find some misinformation, and I’ll try to clear that up.

Blair wrote many, if not all of the programs on the chopping block, don’t “serve an overall purpose of providing a graduate with a degree that can lead to a good-paying job upon graduation — like a degree in Puppetry.”

Not everyone goes to college for the purpose of getting “a good-paying job.” Some people go to learn more about what they’re passionate about. Some people go for the college experience. Some go to pursue their dream job that doesn’t pay well. 

I earned a B.S. in news-editorial and an M.S. in journalism from West Virginia University, and until very recently, I never had a “good-paying job.” I had a paycheck to paycheck job. I had a “I don’t want to go to the doctor because I don’t know what it’ll cost” job. I had a “I hope nothing happens to my car because I can’t afford any type of car payment” job. And that’s the norm for many journalists. 

My first job out of college I was paid a salary of $22,000 as a reporter.

Are journalists important? Yes, and even Blair seems to believe so. Are teachers important? Yes, but their starting salary is less than $40,000. Are social workers important? Yes, but 50% of social workers in West Virginia make less than $50,000 a year. 

But should the goal of college only be to land a good paying job? There are important jobs that require training that don’t pay well. The arts aren’t good-paying jobs for the majority of people who choose to pursue them, but should we not encourage people who have a passion and talent for writing to get an MFA? Should we not encourage people to study dance or acting? 

Blair also writes that he believes the Board of Governors is laying a foundation to make many of the programs “leaner and stronger, exactly as we’ve done with state government.”

When? Where? In West Virginia state government? You mean all those job vacancies in Child Protective Services or in the correctional system? Or like splitting the Department of Health and Human Resources into three agencies? 

WVU needs to start the cuts at the top. 

The university had a much lower number of administrative positions in 2013 when enrollment was at its peak and before Gee became president (again). By cutting the administration back to 2013 numbers, it would completely eliminate the $45 million budget deficit, according to the WVU Facts blog, which is published anonymously by WVU employees who fear retaliation from the university. WVU Facts estimates that if top administrator positions were cut to 85% of the 2013 levels to match the decline in enrollment, it would save the university $75 million, the projected budget deficit over the next five years. 

Why were so many of these positions added as the number of students steadily declined?

Blair continues to say it would be unreasonable for WVU to expect to be handed a $45 million blank check, and that the university “did what needed to be done, looked around at its programs, investments, and personnel structure, and made the decisions that nobody wants to make.”

What needed to be done was for the university to pay attention to declining enrollment when it started, and slow down spending. The university should have focused less on public-private partnerships to build luxury apartments (without paying property taxes or other additional fees a private company would have to pay independently) that most students can’t afford. 

In 2016, WVU student housing had an occupancy rate of only 65%. The university has seen a decline in fall enrollment every year since 2013.

Blair ended his commentary by writing: “When this time of uncertainty comes to a close, I believe that the rest of the nation will look at WVU and President Gee’s actions as a model for sound management in a financial crisis. I have full confidence in his ability to lead us into a bright, productive future.”

With 797 faculty members out of 897 signing off on a vote of no confidence in Gee’s leadership, Blair is in the minority.