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Special session call unlikely to come from Justice for WVU financial crisis

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Special session call unlikely to come from Justice for WVU financial crisis

Sep 13, 2023 | 4:41 pm ET
By Caity Coyne
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Special session call unlikely to come from Justice for WVU financial crisis
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During his weekly briefing, Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, said he would not call a special session to to “basically bail out WVU." (Gov. Jim Justice briefing screenshot)

Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that he likely will not heed a request from several House democrats to call a special session of the Legislature to appropriate money to West Virginia University in the wake of an ongoing financial crisis. 

Justice said he was “welcome to ideas” on how to support WVU, but he didn’t think “there is an appetite” from legislative leaders to “basically bail out WVU.”

“First and foremost we, at least at this time, need to be there in a backfall situation,” Justice said during his weekly news briefing. “But at the same time, what we really need to do is let WVU have the time to get their house in order.”

Dels. Joey Garcia, D-Marion; Anitra Hamilton, D-Monongalia; Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia and John Williams, D-Monongalia called for the special session on Tuesday evening. They urged the governor to appropriate $45 million of the state’s $2 billion surplus to the school to stave off what may end up being the elimination of almost 150 faculty positions and dozens of degree programs.

“We are asking for $45 million as a stop gap measure to provide the [WVU] administration more time to find alternative solutions,” Williams said in a news release.

Surplus funding, Justice said, is not an appropriate solution for the struggles WVU is facing.

“The problem with using one-time money is that we can maybe help a situation for one time, and then what happens is, if the house is still not in order, the house comes tumbling down in the years to come,” Justice said. “Let’s give them time. Let’s let them know that we’re standing in the wings and we’re going to always be supportive of our great university but they need to get their house in order.”

Justice did not expand on what it meant to be “standing in the wings” or to “be there [for the school] in a backfall situation.

The governor did say that he has “all the confidence in the world” in WVU President E. Gordon Gee and the university’s Board of Governors — a body he helped shape into what it is today, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He said the school’s budget shortfall is due to “some level of bloating in programs” at WVU and questioned if the university should have been teaching some of those programs in the first place. He did not attribute any of that spending to Gee.

Last week, in a rare meeting of the University Assembly, faculty at WVU voted overwhelmingly to pass a no confidence vote in Gee’s leadership and to pause the “academic transformation” at the school. The Board of Governors has remained steadfast in its support of Gee, however.

Gee has said multiple times in the last several weeks that he would not ask the state Legislature for help to get the school out of its funding hole.

On Monday, Gee was scheduled to appear and present in front of lawmakers during interim meetings, but was a no-show. University Vice President Rob Alsop instead gave a presentation to lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Finance by himself.

The WVU Board of Governors is slated to vote on final cuts for the school during its Friday meeting. A public comment is being held Thursday at 11:30 a.m. for those who wish to speak on the situation.