September 16, 2023 - The West Virginia University Board of Governors approved sweeping program and personnel cuts during a chaotic meeting Friday that was punctuated by the protests of students and faculty in attendance.
According to administrators, the reductions are part of an “Academic Transformation” to solidify the university’s future in the face of dwindling enrollment. The initial proposal to eliminate 32 degree programs and 170 positions drew widespread opposition from students and faculty.
The board approved most of the cuts as proposed, with little discussion among members. In total, 28 programs of study and nearly 150 positions will be eliminated. The majority of the board approved the cuts, with three members — those representing students and faculty — dissenting in almost every instance.
Late amendments added back two faculty positions in the Department of World Languages, Literature and Linguistics — although all of that department’s degree programs were eliminated — and one faculty position each in music and art.
In a news release after the vote, WVU President Gordon Gee touted the school’s continued programs.
“West Virginia University has been and always will be a university that offers a variety of majors — more than 300 in fact — and experiences designed to prepare our students for the future,” Gee said. “Our focus on our students is unparalleled and, as a result of the Board’s actions today, their futures will be even brighter.”
Five of the university’s deans were given unlimited time to speak about the academic transformation and all had favorable remarks ahead of the vote. In contrast, those speaking against the cuts were given two minutes each on Thursday at a board meeting hosted to allow public comments.
Before the vote, Provost Maryanne Reed told the board that students are the priority during the transformation.
“I am heartened that a small number of them will be directly impacted by these decisions by losing their majors,” she said. “While this has been a challenging time, I truly believe brighter days are ahead of us, if we can rebuild trust and work together toward building an even better and a more sustainable WVU.”
Numerous students attending the meeting disagreed, just as they did earlier this month when they held a demonstration on campus.
Despite a warning that disrupters would be asked to leave the meeting, they continued their protests, interrupting with shouts of “Stop the Cuts” and more.
At one point during the two-hour meeting, the students stormed out of the conference room and continued their protests outside the Erickson Alumni Center.
Board chairwoman Taunja Willis-Miller said the students were not asked to leave.
“I said you’re going to be asked to leave,” she said, arguing with a student who remained. “I will not have anyone spread the misinformation that the students were asked to leave.”
The meeting proceeded over the exclamations of some audience members who remained.
“We’re ignoring now, and we’re proceeding,” Willis-Miller said at one point.
Willis-Miller also had to make her closing remarks over the continuing protests of those who remained in the room, at times having to raise her voice over the interjections.
“We know that it was hard and we know that it’s not been easy. We believe it was necessary. Opinions on how to move forward have varied,” she said. “However, the board endeavored to be respectful of differing views, and the one view that we all share is we love WVU.”
Since 2016, WVU has eliminated 509 nonfaculty positions and combined various units to improve efficiency, Willis-Miller said.
“The process isn’t new,” she said. “We have to continually work to make WVU relevant in today’s and tomorrow’s society and for today’s and tomorrow’s students.”
She added, “Ultimately, the path that the Board of Governors approved today will help keep WVU accessible, affordable and relevant.”
Despite contentions that the cuts are wider-reaching, Willis Miller said 99% of the university’s students — and 94% of its faculty — are not in programs that will be discontinued.
“Conversations with various departments began approximately three years ago. We had an appeals process and, from what you saw, the appeals process worked, with revisions being made,” she said. “WVU still offers more than 300 majors, along with enriching opportunities for students to receive a well-rounded education.”