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West Virginia University (WVU) has released the recommendations of its academic program review process. They include the discontinuation of several degree programs, as well as the complete dissolution of the World Languages Department.
The recommendations from the university’s provost come as part of a restructuring in response to an estimated $45 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2024. The individual recommendation notifications can be viewed on the provost’s website.
World Languages is the only department under review recommended for full dissolution. Other programs, such as Applied Human Sciences’ School of Education or the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Public Administration program may lose specific degrees.
In a press release, WVU said 32 of the 338 majors offered on the Morgantown campus have been recommended for discontinuation; 12 undergraduate majors and 20 graduate-level majors affecting more than 400 students.
The preliminary recommendations also included faculty reductions, totaling 169 faculty positions.
“While we view these preliminary recommendations for reductions and discontinuations as necessary, we are keenly aware of the people they will affect,” President Gordon Gee said in the press release. “We do not take that lightly. These faculty are our colleagues, our neighbors and our friends. These decisions are difficult to make.”
Gee is further quoted as saying the Board of Governors charged university administrators to focus on what will best serve the needs of our students and the state.
“Students have choices, and if we aim to improve our enrollment numbers and recruit students to our university, we must have the programs and majors that are most relevant to their needs and the future needs of industry,” he said.
The recommendation to shutter World Languages cites a national decline in enrollment and student demand.
Lisa DiBartolomeo, a teaching professor and supervisor of the Russian studies program, said language education is on the chopping block when it is most necessary.
“If we are allegedly equipping our students to go out into the world and not educating them in means of communication with people from other countries and other backgrounds, we are failing them as a university and we’re failing them as a society,” she said. “The United States is already behind the rest of the world in terms of proficiency in a language other than their own language and this is going to exacerbate the problem for students in a state where foreign language education and cultural competency is already a challenge.”
DiBartolomeo said the recommendation has left faculty both in and outside of World Languages shocked.
“It is unthinkable that a university of our size and stature would cease to offer any language and culture programs whatsoever,” she said.
WVU said it is reviewing plans to eliminate the language requirement for all majors, citing similar decisions at universities like Johns Hopkins and George Washington. Recognizing that some students may still have an interest in languages, the university is considering alternative methods of delivery such as a partnership with an online language app or online partnership with a fellow Big 12 university.
Earlier this year, two WVU students were awarded the highly competitive U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship, and on Tuesday the university boasted that seven students had received Fulbright Scholarships, the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program.
DiBartolomeo expressed concern that ending the teaching of world languages at WVU will severely limit these and other opportunities for future students and contribute to the state’s brain drain.
“If you’re a rising senior in the state of West Virginia, and you’re looking at where you’re going to go to college, and you’re going to depend on the Promise scholarship to help you afford to go to college, you don’t have a lot of options if you’re staying in the state of West Virginia,” she said. “If WVU no longer teaches languages, that student has to choose between studying at a university that recognizes that global readiness and intercultural competence matters, or going out of state and going further into debt and being able to do the program that they want. If kids go out of state to college, they’re even less likely to stay in the state afterward.”
The decision comes after what Provost Maryanne Reed calls a holistic process “considering a variety of factors, including the potential for enrollment growth.”
But DiBartolomeo and others are questioning that process. The World Language Department’s own self-study – a part of the program review process – indicated that the department consistently generates a profit of more than $800,000 annually.
“Revenues exceeded our expenses,” DiBartolomeo said. “My department also really contributes deeply to the service mission of the university. We teach a lot of students. And I don’t think that the provost’s office and the administration are fully aware of the ramifications of closing the language program at a university like this.”
Scott Crichlow, associate professor of political science, said that the results of the program review show that the administration’s decisions are not based on educational needs.
“It’s solely based upon things like class sizes and student-teacher ratios, and that’s going to inevitably prioritize certain programs and deprioritize different programs,” he said. “They’re not about the norms of professions. They’re not about skills. They’re not about student needs. It’s just about following spreadsheet data.”
Crichlow and DiBartolomeo both said the announcements have been demoralizing for faculty across the university. Crichlow said although his program was not up for review and discontinuation in this round, he expects it will be soon.
“Part of the whole concern about this entire process is that the rule change that the administration rushed through doesn’t solely eliminate faculty protections and faculty stability for this one crisis here. The rule change makes it possible for all the years to come to make it much easier to fire faculty,” he said. “International Studies will presumably be part of a future round for elimination. If you’re gonna get rid of all of the world languages, I don’t see how you have an International Studies program going forward.”
Deans and faculty of all affected programs have until Aug. 18 to file an appeal.