Chris Schulz Published

WVU Students Protest Proposed Program Cuts

A cardboard sign reading "Save World Languages" is held up in a crowd of red shirts. In the background can be seen WVU's Oglebay Hall
Students and community members protest on the downtown Morgantown campus of West Virginia University Aug. 21, 2023.
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Chants of “Stop the cuts” and “Hey Hey. Ho Ho. Gordon Gee has got to go” punctuated the gathering of dozens in front of the student union on West Virginia University’s downtown Morgantown campus Monday. 

Students like Claire Graser came out to let the university’s administration know they do not approve of proposed cuts. On Aug. 11 the university proposed cutting more than 30 majors – including the entire World Languages department – to address an estimated $45 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2024.

“Gordon Gee told me that the students voted with their feet when they made these cuts, which was a lie. And if he wants to see the students vote with their feet, now here they are,” she said.

Graser is pursuing an international studies degree, as well as studying French and Arabic. Originally from Virginia, Graser said she would have never come to WVU if World Languages were not offered.

“I’m furious on my behalf, but also for the fact that again, foundational to having a world class institution and a world class education, you need an understanding of the world and world languages,” she said. “I cannot believe that anybody would be willing to take that away from other people who might not otherwise get it.” 

Students downtown were joined by community members and faculty members, and many at the action wore red as a sign of solidarity for faculty members facing termination. A similar protest was simultaneously underway across campus in front of the Student Recreation Center on WVU’s Evansdale Campus.

John Goldwasser teaches mathematics, a department whose Ph.D. program has been targeted for discontinuation. He’s not confident actions like this will stop the proposed cuts but came out regardless.

“It’s better to fight and lose than not to fight. It’s better to make our voices heard. We’re fighting for something very important, which is going to lose this round,” he said. “Who knows what’s going to happen 10 years from now, or 15 years from now.”

A sign on a bedsheet that reads "Fire Gee" over painted flames is held up under the entry arch of WVU's Stewart Hall. Another visible sign is held up over a crowd's head reads "We skipped our lessons to teach you one"
A protest against proposed program cuts at WVU moves to Stewart Hall on the university’s downtown Morgantown campus Aug. 21, 2023.

Goldwasser said if the cuts go through, West Virginia will be one of two states with no Ph.D. program in mathematics. Although that may not impact most students, he fears it will promote an exodus of the state’s math and science students.

“Some of those students get inspired, get motivated by being exposed to the ideas that you only find in a classroom taught by a mathematician,” he said. “What’s gonna happen for the next several years is that the best high school STEM students in West Virginia won’t come here to go to school. They’ll go someplace else. They’ll go to Virginia Tech, or to Penn State, or Maryland. And in the long run, that’s going to be damaging to the state because once somebody leaves for school, there’s a very good chance they’re not going to come back to work.” 

Several state delegates – both current and former – addressed the crowd in front of the student union. Among them was Del. Anitra Hamilton, D-Monongalia, herself a WVU alumnus.

“I hope this sends a strong message to the administration that our students care for more than just football, that they can chant and stand and believe in something more than the sports of this school, that our students care about our faculty,” she said. “They care about our programming. They care about the future of WVU and the state of West Virginia. So I hope they take this into consideration.”

Hamilton said that during the recent special session of the state legislature, she joined with other representatives from the Morgantown area to propose increased funding to help WVU address its budget shortfall. The proposal was ultimately unsuccessful and was not taken up by either chamber.

“If funding would have stayed with the current trend, then this year, they would have given $38 million, which is not far from $45 million,” she said. “I definitely believe that we should invest in our future, and that is in our students. We want people to come to West Virginia, and to also invest in those that are here and are educated here, and who may have a desire to stay here.”

The Board of Governors will meet on Sept. 15 to vote on the proposed program cuts. Student organizers say they plan to protest at future Board of Governors’ meetings, including one planned for Tuesday.