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Despite public outcry, WVU will cut 28 majors, 143 faculty jobs 

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Despite public outcry, WVU will cut 28 majors, 143 faculty jobs 

Sep 15, 2023 | 3:36 pm ET
By Amelia Ferrell Knisely Caity Coyne
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Despite public outcry, WVU will cut 28 majors, 143 faculty jobs 
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The West Virginia University Board of Governors met on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, to vote on eliminating academic programs and faculty positions. (West Virginia Campus Workers | Courtesy photo)

West Virginia University will lose 28 academic programs and 143 faculty jobs from its flagship Morgantown campus following a vote from the Board of Governors.

The decision on Friday, which university leaders acknowledged had been done under an “accelerated” timeline, is the board’s effort to deal with WVU’s $45 million deficit largely driven by declining enrollment. 

“We plan on squeezing the $45 million out almost immediately,” Gee said following the vote, which eliminated all of the university’s foreign language degrees for future students. 

“The decision today of the board will ensure that we remain a very modern and R1, land-grant university,” he continued. “This will lead to improved student success.”

University leaders said work will begin Monday to implement the recommendations,  including creating teach outs plans for students and notifying faculty whose jobs were eliminated.

Students who are juniors and seniors and current graduate students in eliminated programs will be able to finish their degrees, according to administrators. 

They plan to redirect the impacted freshmen and sophomore students into other programs. The university is not required to teach out the lower-level students who have not yet completed 60 credit hours in their major. 

During the emotional public meeting, students and faculty continued to verbally push back on the changes and urged the board to reconsider. 

The changes have faced national scrutiny, too, as the university will also no longer offer graduate degrees in mathematics.

“This was the right thing to preserve our beloved WVU for the future,” said Maryanne Reed, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the university. “I recognize many of my colleagues do not feel the same way.”

Some faculty may lose their jobs in May.

University leaders already cut around 130 employees earlier this year to save $7 million.

More faculty beyond those marked for elimination could leave in response to changes, as well, which could affect the university’s plans to teach out students in affected programs.

“I don’t know yet if I’m one of the faculty who will be riffed this year,” Christine Hoffman, an assistant chair at the university’s English department, told the board on Thursday during a public comment period. “I do know that there is no future for me at an institution run with such callousness, such incompetence and such reckless disregard for its own employees. I also know I’m far from alone in arriving at this conclusion.”

Students unsuccessfully pleaded with university leaders to reconsider the changes, too. 

Administrators acknowledged that students were struggling with the changes, dubbed the Academic Transformation, and said they’ll be reaching out to offer support. 

“For anxious students, for which we know there are a lot … let me say unequivocally nothing approved today bars our students from academic exploration or a well-rounded liberal arts education,” said Gee, who plans to step down in 2025.

Board added back four faculty positions

While most of the proposed changes sailed through, the Board of Governors did edit two of its proposals, which kept more faculty in the music, design and foreign languages programs. 

The Board of Governors originally proposed eliminating the entire foreign languages department, and at one point, university leaders suggested partnering with an online language app to teach students instead of department faculty. 

After the department appealed the decision, the board decided to preserve its Spanish and Chinese courses, which will be offered as electives, but no longer as majors in undergraduate or graduate studies. University administrators couldn’t say if those two languages could be offered as a minor. 

The other language programs will be eliminated. 

During voting, Board of Governors vice-chairman Richard Pill successfully urged members to add two more faculty members back to the department, bringing it to 7 instead of 5, in an effort to preserve support for the university’s International Studies program. 

“I think we’ve been a little dramatic in those cuts even though they may be necessary,” he said.

The Board of Governors also added one faculty member each to the music department and the School of Design, both housed in the College of Creative Arts. 

“Opinions have differed, but the board endeavored to be respectful of different views and the one view we all share is that we love WVU,” said Board Chair Taunja Willis Miller.

The university will continue to offer more than 300 majors, and the proposed changes will not affect the university’s prestigious R1 status, according to WVU Vice President for Research Fred King.

Despite public outcry, WVU will cut 28 majors, 143 faculty jobs 
Rob Alsop, vice president of strategic initiatives at West Virginia University, spoke to lawmakers on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, during legislative interims about the budget situation at the university. (Petty Bennett | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

University leaders justify program, job cuts 

In the last few weeks, university officials have worked to shut down what they called “misinformation” about the changes with a slew of statements and presentations. Many signed off on an “open letter” to the state’s residents justifying the cuts. 

They’ve said programs marked for elimination experienced declines in enrollment and that the overall cuts will affect less than 1% of undergraduate students. 

Faculty have argued that the pending changes will have widespread effects beyond those whose majors could be eliminated. 

Ahead of the vote, five deans from different parts of the university, who were selected to speak, praised the ongoing Academic Transformation, saying how it had already helped the state and students better prepare for the future. 

Work to update the university began in 2016, according to Gee. 

In 2021, WVU merged two colleges to create the College of Applied Sciences, which includes education majors. 

We must build bridges in our university and in our school communities between health and wellness, and teaching and learning to ensure our learning environments are safe, civil and inspiring spaces. Academic Transformation lets us do just that,” said Autumn Tooms Cypres, dean of the College of Applied Sciences.

The deans’ remarks, which had no time limit, were in stark contrast to those expressed on Thursday. Fifty people, which included many faculty members, had two minutes to speak during public comments; no one spoke in favor of the changes.

Some speakers warned the board of how their decisions will certainly come with unintended consequences, like a lack of support from the university’s alumni and wider community. 

Miles Case, a student, grew up in Morgantown and said his earliest memories are of running around the law school while his dad took classes there.

“Needless to say, this school means a lot to me … You have forgotten that for each one of these students, there are family, friends, and a community that you are making an enemy out of,” Case said. 

“And President Gee, you were correct when you said that higher education is under attack. But I think you forgot to mention that you were the one who was attacking it.”