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West Virginia University faculty and students had a lot of questions about looming cuts to programs during Monday’s Faculty Senate meeting.
WVU President Gordon Gee delivered a statement addressing what he called misrepresentations of the academic transformation process at the start of the meeting.
“I will not accept the narrative being promulgated that we have mismanaged this university, where we are making it a lesser university,” he said. “That is absolutely far from the truth.”
He dismissed claims that the university’s budgets were designed around the aspiration of growing enrollment, or that the university’s debt load increased by 55 percent. Gee also emphasized that the university has been addressing areas of concern since 2016.
“Almost every program that was put on watch was told three years ago that they were going to be recommended for discontinuance because they were not operating at an optimum level including declining enrollments,” he said. “They had multiple opportunities to bring forth viable options for change.”
After his statement, Gee spent more than a half hour answering questions from faculty members and students, many of whom questioned his assertions.
Asked by one student if he would take a pay cut to help mitigate the budget shortfall, Gee responded that he had not had a pay raise in the 10 years since his return to the university.
“I don’t advertise that I also am a major donor to the university, I have given a substantial amount of money,” Gee said. “During the pandemic, there was a decision made that we would not cut any salaries for the teaching faculty. But we did ask our senior administration and our athletic department – for all of them to cut their salaries. And they did.”
Douglas Terry, an English professor in Beckley, asked how eliminating World Languages would lead to WVU providing a robust liberal arts education.
“We’re in a modern country, we have many modern ways now to teach foreign languages and to teach and to engage in culture,” Gee said. “There is not just one way to salvation, there’s a number of ways of salvation and that’s exactly what we are doing and what we’re going to explore.”
Gee also used the opportunity to discuss the World Language Department’s performance issues.
“They had a student faculty ratio better than the department of surgery and on top of it, they said, ‘Well, we’re making $800,000.’” he said. “That is false, from the very start, because what they’re doing is they’re counting student hours. That is someone else’s money.”
Mathematics professor Ela Celikbas asked about the impact of the proposal to cut the university’s math PhD, particularly on math education.
“Mathematics is critical to our sciences, but it doesn’t mean that we need to do it the way that everyone else does it,” Gee said. “The fundamental issue is, math is critical. But not every aspect of mathematics in this state at this university is critical.”
The remainder of the meeting was focused on the details of the reduction in force and non renewal process if the Board of Governors votes Friday to approve cuts to programs.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Governors released an open letter jointly with Gee reiterating many of the points he made during the Faculty Senate meeting.