Editorials, Opinion

WVU believes what it says, but some things have been left unsaid

A couple weeks ago, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee sat down with The Dominion Post Editorial Board to discuss the ongoing academic transformation and to answer some questions.

Gee was adamant that the transformation is necessary, and it has been in the works for several years. He reiterated that the university is not facing a financial crisis. Rather, WVU faces a structural deficit (in Gee’s words, a decrease in students but no decreases in faculty or programs) of $45 million, which is not a crisis in and of itself. However, if left unchecked, it could snowball into a crisis. He also reiterated there have been and will be cuts to the administrative side of WVU. And Gee was insistent that the university has been as transparent as possible.

We believe WVU would have had to undergo a transformation sooner or later; times change and so must institutions. Students’ needs and wants are changing, but higher education must be careful not to become a four-year vocational or tech school. A college education is not just a means to a job, but a journey of exploration and self-discovery.

We believe WVU is not in a financial crisis; however, we also understand why students, faculty and the public would think it is. Generally, massive changes aren’t made this quickly unless there’s an emergency. Gee has frequently said that speed is their friend, and it is — when you’re ripping off a bandaid. Maybe not so much when one is overhauling an entire academic institution.

We believe WVU has made what it considers administrative cuts. In our meeting, Gee reiterated that 509 administrative positions have been eliminated. It’s a number we’d heard before, but we were able to clarify that was the number of reductions since 2015.

However, how the university and how the public define “administrative” seem to be very different. When the public cries out for fewer administrators, what it means are fewer vice presidents, directors, etc. and fewer assistants and secretaries to vice presidents, directors, etc. What the university defines as “administrative” is any classified and non-classified personnel that do not work in academics.

In the General Counsel’s presentation to the Board of Governors, you can see where some of the cuts  have been made since 2018: 78 in Auxiliary and Business Services (maintenance, groundskeeping, parking and transportation, sustainability and environmental health and safety), and we would like to note that these areas have been staffed  below the standards set by the Association of Physical Plant Administrators, though WVU says it’s maintained target levels of cleanliness despite fewer staff; 24 in IT Services; five in Talent and Culture (including, we assume, the vice president who is retiring); six in Shared Services (finance and human resources) and three in the University Police (though the WVUPD budget has significantly increased).

We believe that the WVU administration thinks it has been transparent. However, it can’t be denied that the university sometimes presents a limited picture. In particular, the university’s repeated statement that only 1%-2% of students will be affected is technically true — but that figure only counts primary majors and excludes dual majors and minors, same as the portfolio review. In our conversation with Gee, he gave the example of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics. There are only 21 primary majors. However, there are 55 dual majors and roughly 200 minors, just for this one program.

We understand that dual majors and minors don’t contribute significant revenue to a program. But it seems disingenuous to insist such a small fraction of students will be impacted when the reality is that hundreds of students have been left out of the equation. They may not be primary sources of income, but they still matter.

We believe the WVU administration and BOG believe what they are saying — but the community can tell some things have been left out. And the things being left unsaid are the very things the community needs to hear.