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Over 100 people, including students covering the floor and holding signs, fill the West Virginia University Board of Governors meeting room.

Over 100 people filled the West Virginia University Board of Governors meeting room Friday. As votes on the cuts began, the students on the floor stood up and began chanting.

Ryan Quinn/Inside Higher Ed

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—Despite pleas from students, faculty members and academic organizations to change course, and despite student protesters disrupting its Friday meeting, the West Virginia University Board of Governors voted Friday to slash 143 faculty positions and 28 academic programs from its flagship Morgantown campus.

WVU will lose all of its foreign language degree programs and its math graduate degree programs, among other offerings.

Some students wept, and assistant math professor Ela Celikbas said “God bless WVU” and stormed out of the meeting room Friday morning as board members approved cut after cut. Only the student body president, the Faculty Senate president and another faculty representative consistently voted no.

Board members approved the reductions with no debate among them. Taunja Willis Miller, the chair, was the only vocal one; she responded to interrupting audience members and tried to continue the meeting after roughly 25 students, who had been sitting uncharacteristically silent on the floor with protest signs, leapt to their feet and began chanting, “Stop the cuts!” 

Student protesters had swelled the crowd in the small meeting room to more than 100, including board members, WVU officials and others. 

Just after the board members took their first voice vote to approve cuts to the first department, an audience member asked that they at least raise hands when voting. When Willis Miller resisted, someone said, “I would like to see some transparency,” and the students began their disruption.  

The chanting students eventually left the room, but Mai-lyn Sadler—a senior philosophy and political science dual major from southern West Virginia who has helped lead the opposition—re-entered and chanted through a megaphone.The Daily Athenaeum student newspaper reported that protesters were “physically pushed out” of the meeting room “by university personnel” when they tried to re-enter. Students and WVU officials disagreed on whether students were told that they had to leave the Erickson Alumni Center entirely; regardless, they ended up chanting outside the windows to the board room. 

Mountaineer fans yell “Eat shit, Pitt!” regarding the University of Pittsburgh, a football rival WVU plays Saturday. Among the protesters’ chants Friday: “Eat shit Gee!”

E. Gordon Gee, WVU’s president, first telegraphed deep cuts during a State of the University speech in March.

WVU’s enrollment has declined 10 percent since 2015, far worse than the national average. In April, WVU leaders, projecting a further 5,000-student plunge over the next decade, said they needed to slash $75 million from the budget. The provost’s office said it was gathering data over the summer.

On Aug. 11, the week before fall classes began, WVU revealed the scope of its preliminary recommendations, which started a scramble by professors, the students’ union and others to raise national alarm and stop the cuts. Faculty members said they felt excluded from the process.

Attention came from national media and national groups, such as the American Association of University Professors and the Modern Language Association—one of multiple groups that called the proposed cuts “unprecedented” or “drastic.” During WVU’s official appeal process, the university withdrew some proposed faculty cuts and program eliminations, such as the suggestions to nix the master’s degrees in creative writing, acting and special education.

Attendees of the University Assembly—a rarely summoned body of all full-time WVU faculty members, with certain exceptions—also overwhelmingly approved a no-confidence resolution in Gee and a request that the university immediately freeze this “Academic Transformation” process.

WVU administrators proceeded with most of their original proposals. They took them to the board Friday, and the board, after hearing three hours of opposing public comments the day before, adopted them.

The university is eliminating all its foreign language degrees, which include bachelor’s degrees in French, Spanish, Chinese studies, German studies and Russian studies, along with master’s degrees in linguistics and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).

WVU previously said it would also eliminate all its foreign language minors, then raised Spanish and Chinese as possible exceptions, saying the university would still offer courses in those two languages. There was one relevant change on Friday: the board saved two faculty positions in the department of world languages, literatures and linguistics. WVU officials said that might mean more non-degree language offerings.

“We do not have that answer yet,” said Mark Gavin, associate provost for academic budget, facilities and strategic initiatives, in a news conference after the vote. He said the university needs to understand the demand and the workloads involved.

The current minors allow students to study Arabic, Italian and Japanese. Those will all be eliminated. The languages and literatures department will go from 24 faculty members to seven.

The university will also end its master’s in public administration program, along with its master’s degree in higher education administration and its Ph.D. in higher education. During the meeting, Gavin said the higher education graduate programs were “not serving a specific state need,” eliciting laughs from some in the audience.

There are also cuts in the arts, though the board saved one faculty position each in art and music.

The university is also eliminating its current graduate degree offerings in mathematics, though it 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 will be eliminated in that school, a third of the current faculty.

The replacement math graduate programs aren’t guaranteed. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then to show that we can produce such a curriculum, that we have the people to deliver it and that there’s an audience for it,” Maryanne Reed, the provost, said at the news conference in response to a question from Inside Higher Ed.

University officials have said these and other cuts will take effect at various times, as WVU provides individual employees notices of planned termination, and as professors finish teaching graduate students in discontinued programs and undergraduate students who have accumulated at least 60 credit hours toward their degrees. Those with fewer credit hours have no guarantee they’ll be able to finish their intended degrees at WVU.

Some faculty members may lose their jobs as soon as May.

Olivia Dowler, a senior triple-majoring in history, Spanish and philosophy from Weirton, West Virginia, began crying as the board approved the cuts. 

“I’m grateful that I have the fortune to be taught out, but that’s not the case for everybody,” Dowler said after the meeting. She said she likely wouldn’t have looked at coming to WVU without the Spanish offering. 

“Just knowing that it’s taking away opportunities from this state and the people that I love, whenever I’ve had these opportunities, just really hurts me,” she said, “along with seeing the faculty that have given and sacrificed everything for us just being cut, and discarded.” 

This story has been updated.

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