After hundreds of WVU job cuts, Gee eyes finish line on changes and boasts ‘strong’ finances
His speech came on the heels of a rare and overwhelming faculty vote of no confidence in the university president amid the ‘Academic Transformation’
WVU President E. Gordon Gee delivered his State of the University remarks Monday, Oct. 23, 2023 at the Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown, W.Va. (Matt Sunday | WVU Photo)
West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee addressed his campus on Monday, saying the sweeping changes across the university — including eliminating hundreds of jobs — have helped to close the multi-million dollar shortfall.
His speech, which is required under campus rules, came on the heels of a rare and overwhelming faculty vote of no confidence in Gee amid the cuts.
Gee acknowledged that the last year included “hard choices.”
“We may not agree with some of the decisions that were made, but collectively, I know and trust that we will find a way to move forward together,” he said to a crowd in the Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown.
During his remarks, Gee indicated that WVU is nearing the end of announcements of campus changes under what’s known as the “Academic Transformation.” According to Gee and other university leaders, a budget deficit “accelerated” those changes this year, which included a tuition increase, job loss and academic program mergers and closures. Faculty and students have argued that leaders’ actions will permanently damage the state’s land grant university; more faculty are expected to leave in response to the changes.
“The past few months have had a deep impact on our campus community. We have experienced intense emotions ranging from anger to great sadness. And I understand and acknowledge those feelings,” Gee said. “This reaches our community at a very personal level.”
Gee’s annual address in September 2022 gave little indication of the year to come at the state’s largest public university. He acknowledged that college enrollment was declining and said that WVU would continue to prioritize financial help for students.
By the spring, he publicly announced that the university was facing a $35 million structural budget deficit. University leaders soon said the budget gap was $45 million and estimated that it would balloon to $75 million or more if they didn’t deal with it.
WVU leaders have dealt with the gap through mass staff layoffs. Around 130 people were let go over the summer, and the Board of Governors voted in September to eliminate 143 faculty positions. Reduction in Force letters went out this month to affected faculty members.
The university’s business college abruptly announced in September that it would eliminate eight faculty jobs, and more job cuts will be announced by the end of the year in the university’s libraries and Teaching and Learning Commons.
“Our colleagues who have been affected by the decisions are a part of our university community,” Gee said on Monday. “I am deeply appreciative of their contributions and am keenly aware of the cost this process has come to bear.”
According to Gee, auditors have “confirmed the strength” of the university’s finances and they’re moving toward closing the financial gap.
“Through the academic program review process, we are estimating the university will yield around $17.3 million in savings by fiscal year 2027, after phased retirements and teach out plans run their course,” he explained. The university plans to teach out most of the students whose majors have been eliminated or affected by the transformation, though, faculty are not required to stay to teach out students.
“However, the majority of savings will be realized in fiscal year 2025,” he added.
Immediately following the speech, members of the West Virginia United Students’ Union held a “People’s State of the University Address” where faculty and students pushed back on what they said has been a “changing narrative” from the university regarding the campus cuts.
“We wanted more participation from faculty, students and staff, and to make it more democratic,” said Matthew Kolb, a 21-year-old WVU student from Follansbee. “Then, we were told that they can’t freeze [the Academic Transformation] because it was a dire situation.”
WVU leaders have said the Board of Governors asked them to swiftly deal with the budget gap while maintaining there was no financial crisis.
Kolb said the student union has grown to more than 400 members since launching in July. He helped organize the on-campus response to Gee’s speech.
Academic program cuts included the elimination of math graduate programs, which affected Kolb’s future plans. As a math major, he’d planned to stay at WVU to continue his education. Now, he’ll have to look elsewhere.
“We don’t believe there’s any true concern about whether this is good for the university,” he said.
Gee did not give a definitive end to changes at WVU. The university’s Beckley and Keyser campuses will undergo programming and financial reviews.
He also focused his remarks on student recruitment and helping to solve the state’s long-standing health care problems with an infusion of education and workers.
“We are currently developing a partnership with WVU Medicine to create unique academic pathways to a variety of medical fields that would guarantee job placement in one of our 24 system hospitals around the state,” Gee said.
“I believe in this University — very deeply. And I believe we can lead in new ways that inspire innovation in higher education,” Gee said when concluding his speech. “ … We will demonstrate that a university can transform while still providing a well-rounded, relevant and meaningful experience for all.”
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