Editorials, Opinion

Gee should ask for help from W.Va. Legislature

It’s an open secret that the majority of the West Virginia Legislature dislikes Morgantown — and everything related to it. (“Dislike” borders on understatement, but “hates” seemed too strong a word.) Which may be why West Virginia University President Gordon Gee is reluctant to ask it for help as the university faces a financial crisis.

But knowing the answer will be “no” shouldn’t stop Gee from asking anyway.

Yes, there are undoubtably “structural” problems, to paraphrase Gee, that contributed to the predicament. And the university administration should own its mistakes. However, WVU and its administration are not solely responsible for the $45 million shortfall.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (a left-leaning think tank) has already crunched the numbers and found the Legislature’s repeated cuts and refusal to adjust higher education funding for inflation has cost the state’s flagship university over $37 million in state dollars that it should have received. That would have covered more than 80% of the current shortfall.

Even if we take the CBP’s math with a grain of salt and assume it was too generous in its calculations, we still have the evidence that the Legislature shirked its responsibility to support West Virginia’s premier land-grant institution. So let’s cut the CBP’s number in half and say the Legislature is only $18.5 million behind in college support payments. That’s still over 40% of WVU’s deficit. How many of the 169 faculty positions and 32 programs on the chopping block could that money save?

Can you imagine up to 169 families packing up and leaving Morgantown? Can you imagine the ripple effect that would have on a community still reeling from the loss of Mylan? (The new owners can call it whatever they like — it will always be Mylan to us.)

Some smaller businesses stepped in to fill the void Mylan’s departure left, but it’s not as if a new university can set up shop in town and take on WVU’s laid off faculty. Perhaps former professors could find work at colleges within commuting distance, but more than likely they will have to move out of town, if not out of state, to find work. This will be an incalculable loss, especially since WVU staff and faculty are so tightly woven into the fabric of our community and economy.

Gee should take every possible opportunity to save these jobs — and that means asking the Legislature for help.

It will probably say no — it already did, actually, when legislators refused to consider $45 million for WVU while it was earmarking $45 million for Marshall during the recent special session. But they’ll get a PR pass on that because the proposal was ruled “not germane” (unrelated) to the bill.

If nothing else, Gee reaching out to the Legislature will force lawmakers to go on the record as refusing to assist one of the state’s largest employers and economic engines through a crisis that the Legislature itself helped create. Then lawmakers will have to answer to their constituents for that decision.