As WVU faculty learn whose jobs are cut, they say more will leave and jeopardize programs 

‘We do know there will be impacts beyond the personnel decisions that are being made now,’ the university provost acknowledged on Monday.

By: - October 11, 2023 6:00 am
A glass building with a blue sign that says Mountainlair at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va., sits above a stone retaining wall.

The West Virginia University student union, the Mountainlair, on the Morgantown, W.Va. campus. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

Christiaan Abildso has been in Morgantown for nearly 20 years, first as a graduate student studying public health, then working as a faculty member in the same department.

He focused on promoting health and exercise — in a state that has been consistently ranked as one of the nation’s least healthy.

On Monday, he was told by West Virginia University leadership that his contract wouldn’t be renewed after May. He’s one of the 143 faculty positions the university is shedding, in part, to make up for a $45 million budget deficit. 

“It’s tough, you know. Personally, we’ve given two decades here and raised our family here — had two children here,” said Abildso, 47.

Christiaan Abildso, a faculty member with West Virginia University’s School of Public Health, learned on Monday that his contract won’t be renewed in May.
(WVU School of Public Health | Courtesy photo)

Reduction in force notices have started going out at WVU, and impacted faculty are expected to be notified by the end of the week, marking the next step in the university’s sweeping and swift Academic Transformation. The cuts are likely to have ripple effects, faculty said, causing more personnel to leave the university and further impact academic courses. Additionally, university leaders promised to “teach out” most students who are currently enrolled in 28 majors that the Board of Governors eliminated. 

“Every single person I’ve spoken to is looking for a new job,” said English Department faculty member Rose Casey on Monday during a Faculty Senate meeting. Her department is required to decrease its faculty. “It’s a pretty horrible place to be right now.” 

“We do know there will be impacts beyond the personnel decisions that are being made now,” WVU Provost Maryanne Reed acknowledged.

Reed shared that the number of faculty set to receive RIF notices has declined by more than 50% because people in impacted departments voluntarily resigned or retired. Sixty-nine faculty members have or will receive notices, she said. 

“I realize that is of little solace for those faculty members who will be losing their positions,” she said.

University General Counsel Stephanie Taylor said they reviewed RIF recommendations to ensure objectivity. The decisions were made based on faculty performance, seniority, and knowledge and skills, she said. Those subject to RIF will be able to participate in a due process hearing to appeal their job loss. 

Faculty Senate Chair Frankie Tack was emotional on Monday about the job loss. “We hope for all of you that you can find moments of solace amidst the storm,” she said. 

There’s no definitive end in sight for job cuts at the state’s largest public university. University leaders already cut more than 100 jobs earlier this year to save money.

WVU Beckley and Keyser campuses will undergo programming and financial reviews. along with the WVU Extension, which addresses hunger and nutrition with families around the state. 

The Academic Transformation resulted in a landslide vote of no confidence in President E. Gordon Gee.

Gee, when pressed during Monday’s meeting, couldn’t say the job reductions happening now would prevent more loss down the line. He stressed the changes weren’t forced by a budget deficit, but the finances acted as “an accelerant.”

“I cannot predict the future,” he said. “Although, I can predict that this transformation process will allow us to have an opportunity to be more forward leaning … Truthfully, by doing what we’re doing now, we will have put ourselves in a way that we’re not out over our skis.”

While Gee said declining enrollment drove the budget deficit, he shared that now, enrollment is up for next year along with admittance and deposits. 

He referenced WVU’s new budget model as a way to address budget issues. The model is “a tool to show resources as they align to the units generating them using variables from activities during an academic year, including student credit hours generated, degrees awarded and externally supported research expenditures,” according to university leaders. 

“These next few weeks will be challenging for many as we move through this reduction in force process,” Gee said on Monday. “It will be difficult for those affected and those who remain.”

Abildso, a tenured associate professor, said he was likely selected as part of the RIF because he had been outspoken about how the Academic Transformation would negatively affect his department, which is required to cut faculty jobs and discontinue its PhD program in Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences. The state’s new higher education funding formula helped to shape what programs are being discontinued.

“I know I did what was right,” he said. 

WVU leadership have maintained that they wouldn’t tolerate retaliation during this process. 

Abildso plans to stay in Morgantown with his family and continue his work focused on promoting health in West Virginia communities. 

“I won’t leave unless I absolutely have to,” he said.


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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.