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West Virginia University students protesting proposed faculty member layoffs and academic program cuts. One student holds a stick above the crowd, and another has a sign reading "Gee + BOG Need to GO."

West Virginia University students protested proposed faculty member layoffs and academic program cuts Aug. 21 outside the Stewart Hall administration building.

Ryan Quinn/Inside Higher Ed

A rarely convened West Virginia University faculty body voted 797 to 100 Wednesday to pass a no-confidence resolution in President E. Gordon Gee, whose administration has raised ire for its proposed gutting of foreign language instruction along with other sizable academic program cuts and layoffs across the Morgantown campus.

“President E. Gordon Gee has mismanaged the university’s finances—while also refusing to accept responsibility for the current financial situation of the university—in the following ways,” reads the resolution, which stretches more than two pages and lists items such as “irresponsibly claiming … that he would grow WVU’s enrollment to at least 40,000 by 2020 to justify expansion and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that would increase WVU’s debt load.”

WVU’s enrollment has instead declined 10 percent since 2015, far worse than the national average.

Gordon Gee, a light-skinned older man with light hair wearing a yellow bow tie, speaks at a lectern.
Gordon Gee, WVU’s president, at Wednesday’s meeting.

University Assembly/YouTube

Gee—who became WVU’s president for a second time in 2014 after stints leading Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Brown Universities, and the University of Colorado—was allowed a few minutes to speak after a faculty member introduced the no-confidence resolution.

“If I had done all of those things, I would probably vote no confidence myself,” Gee began.

He ticked off a list of advances under his leadership, including growth in the number of student groups, the purchase of 24 hospitals, significant increases in “research productivity” and WVU’s becoming, early in his nearly decade-long tenure, an R-1 university—a prestigious label reserved for those with “very high research activity” in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

“We will proceed forward with what we are doing right now, and I think that we’ll strengthen our institution for doing so, so I thank you all for letting me be here with you today, thank you,” Gee said in conclusion.

Lara Farina, an English professor, noted to the University Assembly that her department is one of those under review for possible cuts.

“Even when scores of faculty communicate concerns about President Gee’s reckless initiatives, the Board [of Governors] is unwilling to engage these, essentially rubber-stamping whatever Gee does,” Farina said. “At the level of governance, then, there is no real restraint on Gee’s administration. The only corrective can come from public outcry and protests by students and employees. Our students have done their part with protests and petitions; we need to do ours with a vote of no confidence.”

After the vote, Taunja Willis-Miller, chair of the WVU Board of Governors, issued a statement defending Gee.

“The Board of Governors unequivocally supports the leadership of President Gee and the strategic repositioning of WVU and rejects the multiple examples of misinformation that informed these resolutions,” she wrote. “The university is transforming to better reflect the needs of today, and we must continue to act boldly. President Gee has shown time and again he is not afraid to do the difficult work required.”

The University Assembly also passed, by a vote of 747 to 79, a resolution calling for an “immediate freeze” to WVU’s Academic Transformation process.

“Senior leadership has failed to honestly and effectively communicate how decisions being made in the name of Academic Transformation are data driven, informed by stable and reasonable criteria, and in reference to the full scope of disciplines and practices associated with other flagship R-1 universities,” that resolution said.

The Academic Transformation process generated preliminary recommendations about a month ago to slash nearly one-tenth of the majors and 169 full-time faculty positions from WVU’s flagship campus in Morgantown.

The double condemnations come ahead of the WVU Board of Governors’ Sept. 15 meeting, when it’s set to decide on the final proposed cuts.

Wednesday’s votes came despite WVU’s walking back several of the preliminary recommendations after national outcry and an official academic unit appeals process. For example, WVU officials rescinded an earlier proposal to ditch the university’s master’s degrees in creative writing, acting and special education.

But WVU administrators haven’t heeded other appeals and protests. They’re still planning to recommend that the Board of Governors eliminate all foreign language degrees and only offer in-person courses in Spanish and Chinese. The final recommendation to the board will be to cut faculty positions in the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics from 24 to five, up from the originally proposed zero.

WVU is still recommending an end to its master’s in public administration program, too, along with its master’s degree in higher education administration and its Ph.D. in higher education.

In addition, administrators are sticking with their proposal to eliminate current graduate degree offerings in mathematics, though WVU says the School of Mathematical and Data Sciences has been given “approval to begin the intent-to-plan process” for replacement master’s and doctoral degrees. Sixteen faculty positions are now proposed to be eliminated in that school—down from 18, but still a third of the current faculty.

The University Assembly gathered for two hours in the Canady Creative Arts Center’s Lyell B. Clay Theatre in Morgantown. Frankie Tack, a service associate professor and chair of WVU’s Faculty Senate, which is a smaller body of elected representatives, said about 7 percent of the faculty submitted a petition to summon the full assembly. She said the required threshold is 5 percent.

The assembly is composed of all full-time WVU faculty members, with certain exceptions. In 2021, the assembly convened and voted by a wide margin in favor of requiring students and employees to get COVID-19 vaccines, but WVU administrators didn’t heed that.

In a news release after Wednesday’s vote, WVU claimed, “The Faculty Senate disallowed faculty members serving as deans or those serving in central administration roles from voting.”

David M. Hauser, a political science teaching assistant professor and secretary of the Faculty Senate, wrote in an email that the WVU Senate Constitution defines University Assembly members “according to how the WVU Board of Governors defines ‘faculty’ (in BOG rule 4.2; here). So, the assembly did not disallow any administrative person; the definition of ‘faculty’ (according to BOG 4.2) makes administrators not part of ‘faculty.’ Given they aren’t defined as faculty, they don’t have a vote.”

Tack wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that attendance Wednesday maxed out at 913 of 2,648 eligible to vote. “Quorum minimum was 662,” she wrote. “Attendance far exceeded that.”

Only about seven faculty members spoke before secret ballots were cast in the no-confidence vote on Gee. A couple of the speakers defended Gee. Vinay Badhwar, chair of the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, joined online to talk about Gee’s “contribution to health care.”

“We present now globally all over the world; we’ve generated multiple grants and financial funding,” Badhwar said, adding that WVU is now recognized “over the world as a leader in health care and a leader in cardiac.”

Before the vote on the resolution calling for freezing the Academic Transformation process, Hauser moved to allow Provost Maryanne Reed to speak, but he said that was voted down by a show of hands.

David Hoinski, a teaching associate professor of philosophy, said he found the assembly’s second resolution to be of greatest importance. “It’s undemocratic and elitist what WVU is proposing to do,” Hoinski said, talking about proposed cuts to foreign languages, math and other education fields.

“This has national and international implications,” he told the assembly. “We need to fight this all the way, and instead of transforming the university by shrinking it, we should be looking to grow it and build more programs.”

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