Letters, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Sept. 3 letters to the editor – WVU Academic Transformation

EDITOR’S NOTE: LTTEs regarding WVU Academic Transformation

OUT-OF-STATE SUBMISSIONS regarding WVU’s Academic Transformation are now CLOSED. However, we will still accept letters related to the transition from writers in our coverage area (Mon and Preston counties) under the standard letter to the editor guidelines. EMAIL submissions to opinion@dominionpost.com. MAIL submissions to: The Dominion Post, 1251 Earl L. Core Road, Morgantown, WV 26505. INCLUDE your name, hometown and phone number for confirmation. Letters should not exceed 300 words.

Didn’t WVU listen to its own forecasts?

Fifty years ago, I graduated from WVU, and my three sons are WVU graduates. My dad was a WVU graduate and served on the board of governors in the 70s. The current state that WVU finds itself in is an embarrassment for a school that, like the band, is the Pride of West Virginia.

Before I retired, I always attended the annual Economic Forecasts presented by the WVU College of Business and Economics. For years, the forecasts projected higher death than birth rates, population loss, increase in the older demographic and decrease in young people. The forecasts always had excellent research for business, government and education.

Did WVU’s administration and board of governors not listen to their own researchers? There was never any basis to suggest a significant increase in enrollment.

Why didn’t WVU have an effective lobbying strategy against the funding cuts by the Legislature? It seems to have been simply accepted and made up by tuition increases. Increasing tuition, now unaffordable for a lot of West Virginians and unattractive for out-of-state students, is like saying “the floggings will continue until morale improves.”

In the private sector, if a $45 million deficit, overbuilding and erroneous projections occurred, the CEO and other administrators would be out.

The board of governors shares responsibility for this fiasco. They have a duty to ask the tough questions. While individually some may have tried, collectively they have done the university and its students, and employees a disservice.

West Virginia is at the bottom in so many areas, but we could always have pride in our flagship university. The legislature needs to restore funding and the board of governors needs to fulfill their duties.

Patricia Hamilton
B.A. in secondary education (1973)

‘Budgets reflect a government’s values’

Amidst all the furor, some important program cuts at WVU are getting little attention. Elimination of the Department of Public Administration, including all faculty, is one of these. How can education for public service, so essential in these times, be so devalued?

That department changed my life. While still an undergraduate, I took some graduate-level PA classes. Then, three PA faculty members insisted I continue at the nation’s top-ranked graduate school. I was accepted into that Masters of Public Administration program with an assistantship, full tuition and a stipend to live on! I remember it like it was yesterday.

Growing up in poverty in Wirt County, I wasn’t expected to graduate from college, let alone pursue advanced degrees. Those PA professors at WVU refused to accept such constraints for me. Because of their encouragement, I got an MPA and a Ph.D., tuition-free, from a fancy private university, followed by a long, successful career in public service.

Public administration teaches that budgets reflect a government’s values. By now we know the facts: WVU — this state’s largest university, its historic land-grant university, its only R1 research institution — has a current deficit largely traceable to our legislature’s devotion to “flat” budgets over the past decade. PA also teaches that “flat” budgets are fiction; “flat” means serial cuts.

Everyone in power is complicit: the governor; the legislature; and the board of governors and President Gee, who made bad decisions and now refuses to ask for financial aid for WVU.

Even in 2023, higher education is not considered as economic development for West Virginia. Too many children are encouraged to learn a trade, get a job and reject university aspirations. A recent report comparing educational attainment across states ranked West Virginia dead last.

How can these planned cuts at WVU do anything except inflict further damage upon our university and state?

Judy K. Ball
B.A. in political science (1980)

WVU admin seems to have left students out

As an alumnus, I’ve always been proud that WVU is student-focused.

However, stories in The Dominion Post’s Aug. 17 paper seem to show the university’s administration is either out-of-touch with the students or has come up with a “party-line” approach to discussing the present “transition.”

One story’s headline: “Students happy, transformation ‘not a topic of conversation.’ ”

Here, Dean of Students Corey Farris is quoted as saying, “I have not had many questions from (students).”

The other story headline reads “Many indifferent to WVU proposal, some warn of ripple effect.”

The first paragraph reads, “As West Virginia University students and faculty begin another semester, talks about the recently proposed cutbacks and faculty lay-offs have left some students worried about the future of their programs and the school as a whole.”

This story continues, “the majority of students we spoke with said they are aware of the cutbacks proposed by the university but did not think they knew enough to form an opinion. Many noted their personal degree program was not listed as one on the chopping block, so they were not concerned.”

About a small group of freshmen: “they were a little nervous beginning their higher education journey at a school in turmoil and were already considering changes to their chosen majors due to the programs being on the list for elimination.”

Co-founders of the newly formed West Virginia United Students’ Union (WVUSU) believe students are just unaware of the damages approving this proposal would cause.

Christian Adams, one co-founder, is quoted, saying, “I believe the university has intentionally left students out of the conversation entirely.”

WVU students then walked out on Aug. 21 to protest the cuts.

I suggest that the contrasts between the two stories indicates the university administration has either not taken action to become aware of student concerns or has chosen to move forward with little input from students.

C.D. “Tony” Hylton III
Bachelor of Science and Journalism in public relations (1965)
M.A. in political science (1972)

Program cuts go against W.Va.’s state motto

I write this letter as an alumnus with unbelievable sadness in my heart. Over the past few weeks, I have had time to compile my thoughts on the new administrative cuts that have been proposed by West Virginia University.

I grew up in a small rural community in central Ohio, where I was not given the opportunity to experience any other cultures, ideologies or demographics. After spending four years at this institution, I was not only able to grow as an individual in my field due to the exemplary teaching I was provided, but I was able to grow as a human being as well.

As home to the flagship institution within the state of West Virginia, Morgantown has a diverse population that is rarely seen throughout Appalachia. The university draws students from many surrounding states, as well as countries from all over the world. This is accomplished through combining a high level of academic instruction with a diverse community that always feels like a family.

West Virginia University has been a haven for intellectual growth within Appalachia for over 150 years. By cutting programs such as world languages and creative writing, the university is stripping students of an opportunity to express themselves in a free manner and, dare I say, is going against the state’s motto “Montani Semper Liberi” (Mountaineers are always free).

There is nothing “free” about the suppression of academia through the neutralization of programs that provide students with much needed cultural diversity and exposure to the arts.

I believe that it is not only paramount for the current student body and faculty to assess this situation with dire urgency, but for all alumni to fight back against these cuts as well.

Hunter Auck
B.S. in exercise physiology, emphasis in aquatic therapy
Fredericktown, Ohio

Narrowed scope will limit grads’ job opportunities

To WVU parents: I grew up in Morgantown. I am a WVU 1987 B.A. in international studies graduate, and I believe we are making a mistake in curtailing foreign languages and other areas of instruction.

I am a fellow parent and an employer. I run a quant-focused financial firm in San Francisco that routinely recruits interns and sometimes permanent hires from Berkeley, Stanford and Ivy League schools. And WVU when possible.

Taking just internships, the candidates from these other schools — undergraduate through Ph.D. — see and appreciate our offers as coveted opportunities that will propel their careers. Sometimes years later, they will thank me and relate how our time together helped them attain dream jobs.

The students from WVU, by contrast, tend often to not grasp the relevancy of the data work we do. Few will come onto Zoom, and they mostly don’t sign on.

When we fail to land a candidate from the other schools, it’s due to attractive offers elsewhere. With WVU students, my sense is they don’t realize the situation is competitive.

Narrowing WVU’s scope of instruction will accelerate what I am describing. The candidates from these other schools are not necessarily more capable; they are just better exposed.

At WVU, incidentally, I did not envision a financial career and accordingly took no coursework in accounting, finance, statistics or advanced math. All of this I studied later on the job. What prepared me particularly was a broad education at WVU, which sparked later insights and pivots at key career moments.

Parents, think of college as a trade school and you will shut doors on your children’s futures. Life was unpredictable then, and it’s more so now.

I am not alone in wanting to build bridges back to West Virginia to share opportunities, but someone needs to be standing on the other side.

Josh Schein
San Francisco, Calif.

Program cuts will drive potential students away

I am a 2023 graduate of the Master of Social Work program. As a former student, it hurts me to know current students are losing the programs they worked so hard to be a part of.

Prior to applying for the MSW program, I searched for schools that fit my exact priorities within the social work field. WVU has professors whose research fit my passions so incredibly intricately that WVU was the only school I applied to.

By cutting programs such as the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, which many of my peers were and still are involved in through their duel MSW/MPA program, the school is not only letting go of valuable professors and reducing the amount of research done at the university, but also actively chasing away prospective and current students.

The school thinks they can reduce the budget deficit by cutting entire programs. Whether WVU succeeds in their goal of reducing costs or not, they are ultimately losing. The university is losing amazing students, passionate professors and the chance to perform research that might have changed the world.

Because of the culture of instability that the cuts create, I can see students and professors whose programs were not cut leaving out of fear for the future of their own programs.

A friend from undergrad’s mother, who lives across the country, heard about the cuts. She emailed me, knowing that I am a WVU alumnus, and said, “You got out just in time.” She, someone unconnected with the university, was so appalled by this news that she emailed me unprompted.

Students, staff and faculty are beyond appalled. If the school chases current students away and attracts fewer students, it will only fall further into debt. These cuts are irresponsible and cruel.

Shannon McNicholas
Mission Viejo, Calif.

Without MFA, who will tell W.Va.’s stories?

I am writing in protest against President Gee’s academic demolition program, which is nothing more than a coordinated act of violence against some of the best and most vital parts of the school where I earned a B.A. in English in 2003. I am especially incensed by the plan to liquidate the MFA in creative writing, which will inflict grievous harm on the Department of English and the university as a whole.

Despite what Gee and his league of administrators may think, there is nothing impractical or frivolous about the study of literature, linguistics, languages or creative writing. Or printmaking, or painting, or anything else they are so eager to dissolve.

Language is a volatile thing, with vast potential for destruction and construction, for abject ugliness and stunning beauty. We will never understand it fully, but it is imperative that we make constant efforts to do so. The only way I know to go about it is to study the best, most unique or most intriguing things that have been made using words, and to produce writing that seeks to do with language what has not been done before.

That, more or less, is what MFA programs and English departments are for, and as long as there is no better substitute for them, they are absolutely necessary.

And if any state in this union needs to have an MFA in writing, it is West Virginia. We know what happens when we leave it to those who have not spent any time in the state to tell stories about its people.

Gee, et al. seek to save the university by partially destroying it. This is no wiser than cutting costs on an expensive building by removing floors one through seven, and crossing our fingers as we watch what happens to levels eight through 30.

We must retain the MFA program at WVU, and I am adamantly against the cuts that have been proposed across the board.

Robert Long Foreman

Success attributed to interdisciplinary studies

Interdisciplinary experiences embodied my education at West Virginia University. I graduated in 2018 with a degree in civil engineering and a minor in international and comparative politics. I regularly took Spanish and dance classes, along with my major and minor courses. The arts, math and language carried me through my public education growing up and onwards through college in Morgantown.

The tap, jazz and ballet classes that I took at WVU made me a more open-minded and creative problem solver in engineering and political science.

Math was fundamental to my engineering education. After all, it is not possible to excel at science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) without the “M.” The critical thinking and problem-solving skills that I learned through differential equations underpinned my core engineering courses, which offered a foundation for my environmental systems engineering master’s degree at University College London as WVU’s third British Marshall Scholar. I’m certain that the strong graduate programs in the Department of Mathematics attracted the faculty and staff that made undergraduate math courses robust.

Studying language enabled me to achieve an advanced Spanish language level and win a Fulbright Scholarship to Spain. I immersed myself in the culture, living with Spanish roommates, and the language skills I gained from in-person classes at WVU made this transition possible. Even more, the international studies classes I took, paired with my four-year involvement in the WVU Model United Nations (MUN) competitive club, allowed me to coach a school’s MUN team in Madrid.

The wide range of languages offered at WVU attracted many to the international studies program, as the ability to communicate globally deepens political analysis and cross-border understanding, both values critical to my second master’s degree in public policy at the University of Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar.

Morgan King