MORGANTOWN – A group calling itself Stewards of West Virginia University has put forward an alternate proposal to the faculty and program cuts underway as part of WVU’s Academic Transformation.
To help meet a $45 million budget deficit, WVU’s Board of Governors had approved cutting 143 faculty positions and 32 programs; the number of faculty cuts subsequently fell to 69 through retirements and resignations. This doesn’t include more than 130 positions cut during the summer, or eight additional positions the business school cut following the BOG’s vote in mid-September.
Stewards of WVU – which says it is not affiliated in any way with WVU – announced its plan in a Tuesday press release and spells it out on the website, stewardsofwvu.org.
Allowing for the already announced retirements, Stewards proposes avoiding any program cuts or further faculty RIFs, and making up the $45 million by: cutting three top administrators; cutting overall administrative (called GIS, General Institutional Support) expenses by 15%, saving $21.7 million; cutting salaries across the board by 2.4 %, excluding Athletics employees making more than $300,000 and any employees earning less than $75,000, saving $13.6 million; and asking employees making more than $300,000 to take an additional 5% pay cut to perhaps offset some of the 2.4% across-the-board pay cut.
Stewards of WVU offers on its website a place for those to sign on in support of the plan. Stewards organizer Frank A. DeGeorge, a retired teaching assistant professor in the College of Business & Economics, said that as of Wednesday afternoon, it had surpassed more than 200 signatures.
Asked about the makeup of Stewards, DeGeorge said he developed the plan and put forward his name as the group front man. Other members wish to remain anonymous. “I am receiving direct support from about half a dozen other affected members of the WVU community, and indirect support from countless others.”
DeGeorge explained that they had three specific WVU leaders in mind for their GIS cuts: President Gordon Gee, Provost Maryanne Reed and Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop.
The Stewards’ announcement on Tuesday coincided with WVU’s announcement that Gee will reorganize the strategic initiatives unit as Alsop plans to leave the university, following a temporary transition to the role of special adviser to the president, effective Nov. 18 through Jan. 31, 2024.
The Stewards’ announcement hinted that Alsop’s decision may have been tied to the release of their plan. DeGeorge said Wednesday, “Senior leadership learned of our proposal over the weekend, began intercepting our meetings and communications as we were collecting sympathetic faculty, and then unexpectedly ‘resigned’ VP Alsop – which our plan specifically calls for – within the hour we were planning on taking our proposal public. … We do view this as a concession or appeasement effort on the part of President Gee (and VP Reed) in response to our Stewardship Plan, and in fact as an endorsement of the Stewardship Plan.”
WVU spokeswoman April Kaull told The Dominion Post Wednesday, “Its assertion regarding yesterday’s [Alsop] announcement is completely false.”
In the Stewards’ release, DeGeorge said the plan reflected the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
“Solidarity, because we shouldn’t fire 220-430 people [they factor in possible additional, unannounced nonrenewals] and eliminate 32 programs if we can all sacrifice a little and accomplish the same goal.”
“And subsidiarity,” he said, “because it is the GIS department that has ballooned steadily during the Gee administration and needs to be reeled in. The Stewardship Plan does not provide guidance regarding application of the 15% reduction which will no doubt be made up of some combination of work-force reductions, salary and wage rate reductions and deep cuts in outside consulting costs. The determination of these cuts will be in the hands of the new senior administration.”
Stewards estimate a total impact through the plan of $55 million or more in savings, with $45 million of that to be permanent.
As we said at the beginning, WVU’s transformation plan is already underway. Asked to respond to the Stewards’ plan, Kaull said, “We are taking a strategic approach to realign all areas of the WVU system to become the modern land-grant university that is increasingly relevant to the needs of today’s students and our global society while also adjusting our budget, so we remain financially sound for the future. As we have throughout this process, we will continue to engage with all of our stakeholders.”