Earlier this month, West Virginia University’s administration rolled out a tentative plan to reduce the university’s $45M budget deficit. The budget cuts included the elimination of 32 degree programs, all foreign language instruction, and all English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) instruction. The proposed budget cuts would allow the university to eliminate 169 full-time faculty positions.
Since WVU’s administration unveiled its plan on the morning of August 11, the blowback has been spectacular. Within hours of announcing the budget cuts, the university administration had already backpedaled on the foreign language instruction plan. Instead, WVU said it will continue to offer Spanish and Chinese language instruction and will retain 5 instructors in those departments. At the same time, WVU intends to move forward with its plans to eliminate foreign language classes as a graduation requirement.
A broader examination of the proposed reduction reveals that the University’s humanities departments will bear the brunt of the budget cuts. WVU’s foreign language departments net about $800,000 per year for the university. This has led some critics to suggest that WVU’s proposed budget cuts are less about the school’s finances and more about the state’s politics.
WVU president E. Gordon Gee spoke about the school’s looming budget deficit earlier this year. “My friends, we have been overgrown for a very long time.” Gee has been the president of WVU since 2014. When he was hired, he pledged to raise WVU’s enrollment to 40,000 students. At that time, WVU enrolled about 32,500 students. Currently, WVU has an enrollment of about 26,000 students. In case you think that there might also be some lard in the University administration, you’re right. The plan also includes the elimination of one administrative position.
Steep budget cuts result of weak oversight
WVU’s administration blames the university’s budget woes on its declining enrollment. For some reason, WVU’s Board of Governors do not see Gee’s empty promise to raise the school’s enrollment (despite having no apparent plan to make that happen); its subsequent steady enrollment losses; and its lack of spending adjustments as revenues fell as a gross failure on Gee’s part. Every year, the Board of Governors has been informed of the enrollment declines. No one asked questions or attempted to hold Gee to account for the declining condition of the university’s finances.
The WVU Board of Governors is expected to vote on the cost-cutting plan on September 15. Don’t think that the impact of these cuts is localized to WVU. This is likely to be a roadmap for future cuts at more universities and colleges to curb the impact of public higher education in the US. It is the natural consequence of weak, ineffective, self-serving, and/or politicized oversight at higher education institutions. WVU’s circumstances should serve as a reminder of what happens when those tasked with overseeing a public institution don’t, can’t, or won’t do the work they were elected or appointed to do.
Photo Credit: Cary Lee, via Flickr