Library among two programs asked to reduce staff in WVU’s budget crunch

University leaders turned their attention to academic support programs, like the library, to see where they could save money.

By: - September 20, 2023 2:52 pm

The West Virginia University Downtown Library in Morgantown, W.Va. (WVU Today | Courtesy photo)

West Virginia University will lose additional employees, including librarians, as part of the ongoing work to reduce costs at the state’s flagship university.

University leaders said Wednesday afternoon that the WVU libraries and the Teaching and Learning Commons, which provides teaching support and resources for faculty and graduate students, will see staff reductions.

Administrators could not give a number of expected job cuts or share a total amount in projected cost savings during the virtual announcement. 

“I don’t know yet what is to come, but it will undoubtedly inhibit the learning and research capacity of our faculty, students and regional community in a variety of ways,” said Catherine Fonseca, a social sciences librarian at WVU.

She emphasized that “reducing library employees is reducing access to materials,” adding that less staff could increase the wait time for faculty and students needing to borrow materials

The university is trying to make up for a $45 million shortfall. Less than a week ago, the WVU Board of Governors voted to eliminate 28 academic programs and 143 faculty positions from its Morgantown campus. 

WVU President E. Gordon Gee said that the changes, which begin going into effect next year, would “squeeze out” the $45 million. 

University leaders reviewed 19 Academic Support Units, which include the library, Honors College and more, over the last year, looking at their outcomes, staffing and budgets.

No programs were marked for elimination, but the review spurred additional pending job loss. The bulk of programs reviewed were approved to continue but with “specific actions” to meet the leaders’ financial and university goals. 

Mark Gavin, associate provost for Academic, Budget, Facilities and Strategic Initiatives at WVU, said that Library Dean Karen Diaz is working collaboratively with his office to accomplish the required library’s budget reduction. 

“Dean Diaz sees a way to accomplish this and not harm patrons in the restructuring,” Gavin said. 

In a news release, Diaz said they plan to find up to $800,000 in savings without affecting the materials budget.  

“Library materials and services are critical to the success of our students, faculty, staff and community and we will not compromise them,” she said. 

The WVU Library is already operating on a 30% reduced budget this year. They have reduced staffing and suspended purchases of new educational materials, including books.

“I am grateful that our library dean decided to review and cut collections rather than people in the wake of the first budget reductions asked of us earlier this year,” Fonseca said. “Not all library deans would have made that tough decision.” 

The library will face no other reductions in materials because of the pending reduction in staffing, according to Gavin, and no library locations will be closed.

“We will likely start to identify those services that we can no longer support with reduced capacity — important services that will impact the research capacity of our students and faculty,” Fonseca said. 

Library staffing includes leadership positions and digital services providers, as well as a  number of librarians and resource specialists in the downtown and Evansdale locations, according to its organizational chart. More than two dozen employees work for the Health Sciences Library and the West Virginia and Regional History Center, as well.

Library personnel help with making collections available and discoverable and provide services to support campus and community research, Fonseca explained. 

Job reductions will be announced in December. 

In August, the Board of Governors approved severance packages for certain clinical and library-track faculty as the board prepared for the pending faculty and staff cuts. Those library positions were previously excluded from severance plans. 

The Teaching and Learning Commons will also see a reduction in staff, which will be announced in the coming months.

The ASU review process was not governed by a Board of Governor’s rule, so the recommendations cannot be appealed. 

The majority of the other Academic Support Units were “already operating in an efficient manner” following reductions in staff and budgets, according to Gavin.

West Virginia University Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop emphasized that the university’s Strategic Initiative and General Counsel offices have undergone their own reviews as part of the Academic Transformation. 

He said they’ve shuffled positions into other departments and streamlined services to save money, and that in some areas, the university doesn’t employ nearly as many people, including custodial services, compared to its collegiate peers.

Last month, WVU announced it would cut one administrative position — the vice president of talent and culture, who plans to retire at the end of the year. The position will not be filled.

University working to determine specific faculty cuts 

On Wednesday, university leaders also went over details about pending faculty reductions due to the academic program changes. 

Faculty have been asked to tell the university if they’d like to continue teaching at WVU. Administrators plan to review information then use a ranking system, which includes tenure and seniority, to determine whose positions will be eliminated.

Notifications of faculty reductions will be sent out by Oct. 16. Some faculty will have the ability to appeal the decision about their employment. 

“Tenure, tenure-track and service-track personnel whose contracts would have expired after May 4 … can appeal the process in a due process hearing,” said WVU General Counsel Stephanie Taylor.  

University leaders have said that the majority of students in eliminated majors will be able to finish their degrees through WVU. They plan to help freshman and sophomores, who aren’t included in most teach out plans, find a different academic path. 

A review is still underway for one additional Academic Support Unit, International Research, and is expected to wrap up by the end of the year. 

WVU Extension and the Keyser and Beckley campuses will also undergo a program and financial review beginning in January. An evaluation of University Relations/Enrollment Management, among others, is also underway. 

According to a university news release, the WVU Faculty Senate also requested a review of areas such as the Division of Student Life where results will be announced soon. 

The university already lost around 130 employees earlier this year as administrators tried to save $7 million.

Gee said on Wednesday that university leaders “will continue to evaluate other areas of the university to maximize efficiency.”

He continued, “We are in the process of doing that at this very moment.”


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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.