MORGANTOWN — The WVU Board of Governors approved proposed Academic Transformation program changes on Friday amid a bombardment of chants, shouts and jeers from angry and distraught students and faculty.
The BOG undertook votes college by college, and the first vote was temporarily paralyzed as protesters in the board room and out in the hall began chanting “Stop the cuts!” When protesters left the room, they continued in the hall, and added banging on the wall to their chorus.
BOG chair Taunja Willis Miller had to bang her gavel multiple times in attempts to restore order, and threaten to have people removed. Many chants were more profane, with a frequent one being “Eat s..t, Gee!”
Some students cried as the votes proceeded. One crying student bore a sign reading, “This isn’t the WVU that I fell in love with.” One protester who’d left the room came back in shouting through a megaphone and had to be escorted out again. Faculty who stayed in the room peppered and interrupted the proceedings with comments and questions.
One said, “No confidence: How could that not mean anything to you?” (Referring to last week’s overwhelming no-confidence vote against President Gordon Gee.)
Associate Provost Mark Gavin reviewed the updated proposals — following the appeals process — for the BOG. There were 117 appealable recommendations by the provost: 66 were not appealed; 51 were appealed and 30 of those were granted; 21 appeals were denied.
Program actions: 28 were discontinued, 10 undergraduate and 18 graduate/professional; 51 were continued with specific actions; 27 were continued; 11 will be developed into a cooperative program.
From the discontinued majors, 91 undergraduate and 238 graduate/professional students were calculated to be affected; 147 faculty positions were recommended to be cut, but that number decreased slightly following the votes, with four positions restored.
For most colleges, the BOG did a single vote on all the schools subject to review. But for the College of Creative Arts, the vote was split to accommodate a motion by vice-chair Richard Pill, with the changes to the School of Theatre and Dance subject to a vote, and the schools of Music Art & Design combined in a separate vote.
Pill proposed and the BOG agreed to restore one faculty position to each of those, so Music will have six positions cut and keep 35; Art & Design will have five positions cut and keep 17.
The BOG had some difficulty navigating through this proposal and vote, and so after they’d voted on all the other proposals, they came back and voted on this again with the motion more clearly spelled out by Rob Alsop, WVU’s senior vice president for strategic initiatives — who did not vote but was aiding the BOG along the way.
The other school to get positions restored was Eberly College’s Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics. The provost had proposed to eliminate all the degree programs in this department and keep only five faculty to teach Spanish and Chinese courses. A BOG member proposed to keep seven faculty in order to offer more language resources and perhaps offer an unspecified minor, and to support international students. The BOG approved this.
None of the votes were unanimous. The BOG has 17 members; per custom, the chair does not vote, except to break ties. Most of the votes were 13-3, with faculty representatives Stanley Hileman and Frankie Tack, and student representative Madison Santmyer always voting no. On a few votes they were joined by classified staff representative Shirley Robinson.
Before the votes, provost Maryanne Reed commented (with occasional jeers from the audience), saying she was proud of the work done by the team members who spent the last six months focused on the effort. “They did so, as did I, believing that this was the right thing to do, to preserve our beloved WVU for the future.”
She said, “We will do everything we can to support the faculty who will be displaced by this process. These are not just numbers or percentages to us, but individuals, people we know who have contributed to our community and made their lives here. … I truly think there are brighter days ahead of us if we can rebuild trust and work together for building a better and more sustainable WVU.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Gee read some prepared remarks. He noted again that transformation began in 2016 in non-academic areas; the academic portion began in 2020. “Ours is a great institution of higher education. Sometimes we forget how strong and how good we are. … We will get stronger. The actions of recent years and the decisions today by the board will ensure that we will remain a very modern land grant R1 university.”
The actions will lead to improved student success, increased retention and higher graduation rates, he said. “I firmly believe that in the not-too-distant future, we will be all able to reflect on the decisions made today and see the positive differences made in supporting our students, our university community, our state and our country.”