Gee Talks Budget and Free Speech in State of the University Address

Gee delivers his 2017 State of the University address.

In the midst of struggling with proposed state budget cuts, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee gave his State of the University address yesterday, emphasizing the university’s importance to the state as a whole as well as its dedication to free speech. 

Gee used the address on Wednesday, March 22, to emphasize his stance that the university is an investment for the state, and not an item to be cut by state lawmakers.

In his budget presented to lawmakers during his State of the University address, Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed budget cut 4.4 percent of the state appropriations given to WVU and Marshall University in the upcoming fiscal year. For WVU, that amounts to about $6 million dollars.

Last week, Republican legislative leaders announced they would cut state funding to higher education by $50 million in the 2018 budget that would take effect July 1 of this year. They have not presented a budget plan specifying how much of those reductions would come from WVU’s budget, but Gee said that during the past three years, the state’s largest university has seen a $30 million reduction in state funding, leading to higher tuition for students.

Gee said continuing to cut government alone would be detrimental to the state. He called on the university to help West Virginia focus on investing instead.

“No one can define themselves into greatness by reducing their budgets willy-nilly. Support the things that are good,” he said after the speech.

Gee said in his address that most careers today require a college degree, and the university offers students a diverse array of programs that contribute West Virginia’s economy.

“Nothing — I will say this unequivocally — nothing is more important right now than the power and opportunity for economic growth of the state provided by this university,” he said after the speech. “We are the economic engine. We hire more people, we created more economic activity. We have more economic return on state investment. You support the things that brought you to the dance. You don’t dance with things that shouldn’t be danced with.”

The address also underscored the university’s devotion to the first amendment. Gee said he emphasized those values because of an increasingly polarized national political climate, in which he says people are being intolerant and unavailable.

“What we see on our campus is something toxic. You take a look at what happened Berkeley, at Middlebury,” he said. “I do not want to be a part of a university in which people do not talk to each other, in which people limit who can come onto this campus because they’re fearful of how people will react.”

Gee called on universities in his address to unite in defense of free speech.