Facing program cuts and layoffs, WVU faculty overwhelmingly pass ‘no confidence’ vote in Gee

Facing program cuts and layoffs, WVU faculty overwhelmingly pass ‘no confidence’ vote in Gee

By: - September 6, 2023 4:08 pm

Nearly 800 West Virginia University faculty members signed off on a vote of no confidence in President E. Gordon Gee’s leadership during a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (Rose Casey | Courtesy photo)

West Virginia University faculty, facing a wave of layoffs as the university will lose academic programs, overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in their university president. 

The vote, held Wednesday on the Morgantown campus and online, was the culmination of months of faculty concerns about university leaders’ plan to cut dozens of academic majors and potentially more than 100 faculty jobs to make up for a financial shortfall. 

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee. (Perry Bennett | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

But, the Board of Governors, who hold the power in the next steps, immediately responded that they stand behind President E. Gordon Gee.

Since news of the pending program cuts went public, the university has faced national scrutiny about how an R-1 university could proceed without key programs, including several language programs and math graduate degrees. 

University leaders dubbed the ongoing changes the “Academic Transformation.” 

Nearly 800 faculty members signed off on a vote of no confidence in Gee’s leadership. One hundred faculty members voted against it. 

“Any effort to dismiss this vote as being unrepresentative would be misguided … We urge the Board of Governors to listen to this collective voice of faculty and take immediate steps to halt this process and restore the confidence of faculty, staff and students in the institution they all share,” West Virginia Campus Workers said in a statement following the vote. 

The statement included that the vote “was taken under an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that the current leadership has contributed to since this process began.”

Some faculty, including those at the Keyser and Beckley campuses, were permitted to vote via Zoom. “I’d like to note that we received approximately 242 requests for remote access for which 239 were granted,” said Faculty Senate President Frankie Tack.

The faculty senate disallowed faculty members serving as deans or those serving in central administration roles from voting.

At the end of 2021, WVU faculty failed to pass a vote of no confidence in Gee, which then centered on a lack of transparency around his leadership. 

Faculty also passed a resolution on Wednesday that called for an immediate freeze of the Academic Transformation. 

The results were sent to the Board of Governors, who acknowledged the passage of resolutions. They’ll decide if it will result in any action regarding Gee or in a pause on the pending program changes.

“The Board of Governors unequivocally supports the leadership of President Gee and the strategic repositioning of WVU and rejects the multiple examples of misinformation that informed these resolutions,” said WVU Board of Governors Chair Taunja Willis-Miller in a statement following the assembly. 

“The University is transforming to better reflect the needs of today, and we must continue to act boldly. President Gee has shown time and again he is not afraid to do the difficult work required,” she continued. 

The Board of Governors will vote on the proposed academic program eliminations and changes Sept. 15.

During the faculty assembly, held at the Clay Theater on the Evansdale Campus, some faculty spoke out against Gee, who began this term as university president in 2014. They pointed to Gee’s “reckless initiatives” and said Gee hadn’t been transparent about what led to financial issues while continuing to spend money to grow the university. 

“There is no real restraint on Gee’s administration,” said English professor Lara Farina. Under the proposed plan, the English department faces a faculty reduction and the master’s degree programs for English and professional writing will be combined into a single track. Department leaders successfully won a part of their appeal to keep the MFA Creative Writing program. 

“The only real corrective can come from public outcry and from students and employees. Our students have done their part with protests and petitions. We need to do our part with a vote of no confidence,” Farina continued.

Gee, who was present at the meeting, pointed to the university’s research productivity, health care system and graduation rates as good results under his leadership. University fundraising has nearly tripled, he added.

But, he said the proposed changes in order to deal with the university’s $45 million deficit need to continue. 

The funding shortfall was largely driven by a declining student enrollment and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Gee.

University leaders have said the pending changes to academic programs will affect less than 2% of the student population. 

“This is all about change, and I understand that, but I have great faith in this university and I have great faith in all of you,” Gee said. “I think we’ll strengthen our institution.”

Faculty members, through a vote, declined to allow Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed the chance to speak during the assembly.

Gee will next face state lawmakers about the financial issues at the state’s flagship university. He’s scheduled to speak to the Joint Committee on Finance on Monday during September legislative interim meetings. 

Marshall University President Brad Smith said last week that Gee’s current efforts at WVU were “courageous.” Marshall, the state’s second largest university, is dealing with its own debt, but has reported an increase in enrollment. 

The university recently received $45 million from the state Legislature for the creation of a new cyber security program.

This article was updated after reporting an incorrect date of the previous vote of no confidence for President Gee.


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Amelia Ferrell Knisely
Amelia Ferrell Knisely

Amelia is an investigative reporter for West Virginia Watch. Her coverage regularly focuses on poverty, child welfare, social services and government.