WVU News

WVU BOG gets update on RIFs, academic transformation; Gee and BOG chair talk about the process

MORGANTOWN – The WVU Board of Governors voted on Monday to approve the rule changes governing faculty and classified staff RIFs — reductions in force — and severance package schedules. The BOG also received a progress report on the academic transformation process.

After the meeting, President Gordon Gee and BOG chair Taunja Willis-Miller talked with The Dominion Post and the West Virginia Press Association about the transformation.

WVU General Counsel Stephanie Taylor told the BOG that they received 190 total comments regarding the RIF rules – 3.9 dealing with classified staff and 4.7 regarding faculty – with 119 of them relating to faculty RIFs.

The actual number of people who commented was 320, but some comments came in groups: among them, 179 faculty members commented, 46 members of the public, 73 anonymous and just three from classified staff.

In response to comments on the severance packages, the BOG voted to double the length of the severance packages for teaching track and service track faculty from the equivalent of six weeks’ pay to 12 weeks, to match the tenured and tenure track faculty.

Rob Alsop, WVU’s senior vice president for strategic initiatives, told the BOG that the additional costs will be charged to the budgets of the academic units where the faculty serve.

Under the Academic Program Portfolio Review and Realignment, 25 of 52 academic units (48%) have been identified for review, as well as 111 of 238 programs (47%). Associate Provost Mark Gavin said again that the majority of the programs will remain after the review. Review may determine that a program will continue at its current level, continue but with specific action, such as RIFS or combining programs, continue at a reduced level, or be discontinued.

The academic program review self-study reports are due today (Tuesday, Aug. 1). Primary recommendations will be communicated to the colleges and departments by Aug. 11. Appeals will follow, and the BOG will vote on final recommendations on Sept. 15. RIF notices will go out the week of Oct. 16.

The moves come as WVU aims to become a leaner institution in light of declining student enrollment and budget deficits. Enrollment has declined from 31,000 in 2014 to about 26,000 this year, and WVU anticipates a continued drop to 21,000 by 2033.

This year’s budget deficit is $45 million and WVU is looking at a $75 million annual deficit moving forward if it takes no action. So the university is now taking steps to reduce programs and staff to cut its budget by $45 million — about 3% of its overall budget.

After the meeting

In our post-meeting conversation, Gee said again that what is happening at WVU is happening at many other universities. The pandemic led to the great droput, and federal COVID funds were perhaps spent with less discipline than was needed. “This is not a surprise.”

He and Willis-Miller said WVU began looking at transformation back in 2020. “The pandemic really interrupted what we had thought would be a longer-range project,” Willis-Miller said.

So coming out of the pandemic, the transformation is accelerated.

“We want to get this transformation done and get on to being an even greater university,” Willis-Miller said.

And Gee added, “I do believe speed is our friend. The faster you go through this process, I do believe you squeeze fear out of the room. There’s a lot of fear that we need to address and we need to address it quickly so we can get on with our business.”

But, he said, “We are not in crisis. We actually are doing quite well.”

Fewer than 5% of people at WVU will be affected by the transformation, he said. “Those are individual lives and we’re cornered about our university family members.” Being under review doesn’t mean something will get chopped. They are about becoming a 21st century university serving the needs of the state, and business and industry in the state, and keeping young people here.

The transformation is beginning with data – how well programs are doing in enrollment and financially, they said. The BOG set metrics to meet for the deficit and they decided to move quickly – with BOG’s vote on recommendations set for Sept. 15.

Willis-Miller said, “If we didn’t have a budget deficit, I think this board would still say, ‘Continue with the transformation.”

Gee admitted that program reviews haven’t been done as robustly as they should have been. From now on, he said, one third of WVU’s programs will be reviewed each year.

We talked to Gee and Willis-Miller about faculty comments to The Dominion Post that cuts that already have occurred and will occur could damage WVU’s reputation.

Gee disagreed. “I think without doing what we’re doing, our future would be very bleak.” While doing what they’re doing raises short-term difficulties, long term it will enhance the quality of WVU.

Already, he said, research numbers are up substantially, the WVU Medicine system spans 24 hospitals, the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute is a national leader.

I think our reputation is very solid and it will grow by the decisions we are making right now.” There will be losses, but also gain. He prefers to think of cuts as investments. “I believe that we are developing an investment strategy that will sustain us for the long term.”

Email: dbeard@dominionpost.com