WVU president awarded contract extension amid $45M shortfall, impending cuts
President E. Gordon Gee’s management of the university has come under question, particularly from some faculty and staff who questioned how the university got into the multi-million dollar shortfall with little warning before it went public earlier this year.
West Virginia University President Gordon Gee. (Perry Bennett | West Virginia Legislative Photography)
West Virginia University’s Board of Governors on Monday extended university President E. Gordon Gee’s contract, noting that their decision may draw criticism as the university is facing a $45 million shortfall. The budget deficit will result in a slashing of academic programs and jobs, according to university officials.
The board approved the contract extension Monday in Morgantown. The contract keeps Gee’s base salary at $800,000 and now runs through June 30, 2025.
“We noted that the university is in a state of transformation. We must continue to act boldly, and President Gee has shown time and time again he is not afraid to do the difficult work required,” said Chair Taunja Willis-Miller.
She added that Gee deserved the chance to see the plan, dubbed the “WVU Transformation,” through its completion.
In response, Gee, 79, thanked board members for their faith in him. “This is a pivotal moment for the university. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
In response to the budget shortfall, the university’s governing board plans to cut 12 graduate and doctorate programs and is evaluating nearly half of its academic programs. Additionally, officials identified 590 full-time faculty member positions they will review under the departments up for evaluation; roughly 130 jobs will be cut as part of a $7 million in staff reduction.
“We understand there is criticism of the transformation… and some people are adversely affected by the decision we made and will make. As a board, we have to focus on the larger vision and the future of the university,” Willis-Miller said.
Gee’s management of the university has come under question, particularly from some faculty and staff who questioned how the university got into the multi-million dollar shortfall with little warning before it went public in the spring.
University faculty and staff began organizing under the name West Virginia Campus Workers, saying they have felt left out of the university’s decisions about how to address the monetary shortall. Group members, who met earlier this month, said the cuts will ultimately hurt students.
Gee and university officials have pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic and declining college attendance rates as reasons behind the financial crisis. Some faculty and staff have argued that enrollment was dropping long before the pandemic and the university’s highly-paid administrators should have better analyzed institutional data ahead of the budget shortfall.
Additionally, The Weirton Daily Times analyzed data to show the state’s largest university did little to slow its spending and hiring of non-faculty employees over the years.
Democrat lawmakers have called on the governor for a special Legislative session to address higher education shortfalls. On Monday, state higher education officials revoked Alderson Broaddus University’s ability to confer degrees due to the private university’s “rapidly deteriorating financial condition.” In a tweet, Gov. Jim Justice thanked WVU, Davis and Elkins College, and West Virginia Wesleyan College for accepting students who would need to transfer ahead of the new semester in August.
‘Reduction in force’ plans move forward with changes
As WVU looks to narrow its finances, the board of governors also approved several amendments to its rules regarding reduction in force and severance for those who are let go from their jobs, though some questions still remain about what severance packages will look like for certain university employees.
At the start of the meeting, Willis Miller said that no one had signed up for public comments during the Monday meeting.
Ahead of the vote, the board did review public comments on their proposed amendments to two West Virginia Board of Governors Rules – Faculty Rule 4.7 – Reduction in Force and Talent and Culture Rule 3.9 – Reduction in Force as well as a Faculty and Classified Staff Severance Package Schedule.
University Vice President and general counsel Stephanie Taylor told board members that there 320 individual commenters, the majority of whom were faculty in Eberly College of Arts and Science. A number of Eberly programs have been marked for review, including its chemistry, English and math departments.
Following the public comments, university leadership decided to increase severance amounts for employees on what the university calls teaching track and service track. The amendment doubled severance for teaching-track employees, bringing the cost to $24,000 per employee, according to the university. Rob Alsop, WVU vice president for strategic initiatives, told board members that with “enhancing the level of severance, there will be a fiscal cost,” as the university is trying to decrease its spending.
While the proposed severance plan was approved, the board decided that they will review possible severance options for librarians and clinical track employees at their next meeting in August. Those positions do not typically receive severance under current university contracts. Alsop said that last year, there were 43 librarians on campus and 1,380 clinical-track faculty.
What’s next: Evaluating what programs to cut
Faculty in departments up for review have been completing self-evaluations that include data on enrollment, faculty to student ratio and credit hours — the information is due to be turned over to university officials tomorrow.
The board is expected to vote Sept. 15 on what programs to discontinue and an appeals process will follow.
Faculty and staff are expected to be notified by mid-October if their positions will not be continued. University leaders said this will give faculty and staff about 30 weeks of notice ahead of employment ending to find new jobs.
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