Chris Schulz Published

WVU Governors Hear Public Comment, Receive Updates On Proposed Cuts

West Virginia University's iconic Woodburn Hall - a brick building with a distinctive clock tower - on a sunny day in front of a blue sky with several clouds. In front of the building can be seen the green space Woodburn Circle, with students walking across.
WVU's Woodburn Hall
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Of the 25 program units identified by West Virginia University (WVU) for formal review, 19 have informed the university they will be appealing the preliminary recommendations.

Associate Provost Mark Gavin gave the university’s Board of Governors an update on the academic transformation initiative during their Aug. 22 special meeting. He said the actual appeals will be heard between Aug. 24 and Sept. 1 and decisions on the appeals will be communicated back to the units within three days of the appeal hearing. The university’s transformation timeline states appeals hearings will be held through Sept. 5. 

“Both specific program actions and/or overall unit faculty reductions can be appealed,” he said. “Within this process, we’re also allowing for a dissenting position to be filed by either an individual faculty member or a group of faculty within that unit. Thus far, we are aware of two units in which a faculty member or members will present a dissenting position.”

Gavin said the appeal process can result in an upholding the preliminary recommendation, or replacing it with a different recommendation. But at the conclusion of the appeals process, recommendations will be considered final. 

The board will meet Sept. 15 to vote on the recommendations.

Public Comment

Before Gavin’s update, the meeting began with about a dozen community members composed of students and recent alumni addressing the board. They expressed their dismay at the proposed cuts, ranging from languages and creative writing to mathematics and music. One called for the resignation of President Gordon Gee, as well as other administrators, and a stop to the proposed cuts to academic programs.

Mary Manspeaker, a Ph.D. English student, said she left the state at 18 because she didn’t feel there was a place for her.

“I have come back because my research interests are focused on Appalachia,” she said. “And to come back and be told that the English department doesn’t matter, that I was right, that there might not be a place for me in West Virginia, is heartbreaking.”

Manspeaker said she hadn’t had a chance to gather her thoughts before speaking because she was applying for SNAP benefits. 

“I don’t get paid a living wage for the courses that I already teach,” she said. “If you cut a large portion of the (graduate teaching assistants) in the MFA that teach composition, what does that look like for the workload of already underpaid workers, who are also trying to get an education?” 

Joey Dimas, a freshman math and English major recounted how the proposed cuts make him feel unwelcome on campus.

“I went through a program called Modify. It’s, I think, exclusive to West Virginia and it made my transition from foster care to college painless,” he said. “But now with the budget cuts, it feels as if the review is telling me they do not care about me or my majors. While I don’t think that is what you guys are explicitly thinking or saying when you look at me, it is the impression that is given off with the list of recommended changes to programs.” 

Board Chair Taunja Willis-Miller thanked the speakers for their statements. She acknowledged the difficulty of the process, but emphasized the board’s belief in its necessity to remain competitive and relevant. 

“You should know that the board did direct the administration to address academic transformation, so that we could become a stronger university, and then in the spring, we accelerated the timeline so that we could get through the process and move forward as the university,“ Willis-Miller said. 

She said the board will meet on Sept. 14 for the primary purpose of hearing comments before a decision is made on academic transformation at the scheduled board meeting Sept. 15.

Gee also gave a brief statement and said he addressed the requirement for the university to transform as far back as 2014.

“I know this is a hard time for our university, no one should think that I, or any of the senior administration university, do not realize that we are doing very hard things and making very difficult decisions,“ he said. 

Gee stressed that the non-academic side of the university has been undergoing cuts for years, netting some 500 cuts to classified and unclassified personnel positions since 2015.

“In 2018, I said land grant universities could win back the people’s favor by acting as the people’s universities again. And I think all of that is critical. So this is what we’ve been working towards,” he said. “Now, yes, we are going to make some difficult decisions. And we do have an appeals process. And we think that that is important. But I will note to everyone here that on the non-academic side of the house, we have been transforming for years, and our staff have borne the brunt of that.“

Agenda Items

The board moved on to its agenda items, first being a review of severance packages. At the board’s July 31 meeting, a proposed faculty severance schedule was approved. However, the board asked for additional information to determine whether certain clinical track and library faculty would be eligible for a severance package if their positions were eliminated. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved a recommendation that they be eligible for severance if their contract is non-renewed following the academic program review process.

Rob Alsop, vice president for strategic initiatives, presented a report on non-academic transformation. He said academic service units and libraries are going through an administrative review and that in the coming weeks more non-administrative reviews will take place.

The goal is to have those reviews done by Oct. 31, to present to the board in November. 

“Again, we’ve done a lot of administrative review and work over the past several years,” Alsop said. “We’re going to look again, just to make sure that we’re operating in an efficient manner and bring those results back to the Board of Governors.”

He also informed the board that Cris DeBord, vice president of Talent and Culture, announced his plan to retire later this year. His position will be eliminated and the entire unit will be reorganized.

“One of the things that we’ve heard from faculty is ‘Do you have too many senior administrators?’ Or are there opportunities to reorganize in a way from a cost savings perspective?” Alsop said. “Because it’s one thing to reduce frontline workers, but it’s another thing to talk about senior administration. You need to walk the walk and talk to talk at all levels.”

Provost Maryanne Reed announced the review of WVU’s Beckley and Keyser campuses will begin January, as well as a review of WVU Extension. 

“We want to get through this fall and accomplish the work that we need to do on the main campus and then we will look to begin that work at our other campuses,“ she said.

The board’s final action was to approve the creation of a new unit composed of the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and WVU Extension. This follows similar consolidations of the College of Creative Arts with the Reed College of Media, as well as the creation of the College of Applied Human Sciences from the merging of the College of Education and Human Services and the College of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences.