published : 2023-08-22

University Students Protest Proposed Academic Cuts in West Virginia

Call for Independent Finance Audit Amidst $45 Million Budget Shortfall at West Virginia University

A group of college students walking out of a university building, banners in hand, expressing their protest. The campus building marking their route, dressed in a crimson glow of the setting sun, magnifies their unity. Taken with Nikon D850

As Monday dawned over West Virginia University, the air was laced with a potent mixture of unease and determination. The day was marked by the unified voices of protesting students, staging a walkout against the proposed elimination of significant academic programs and faculty positions, an unprecedented move sparked by a daunting $45 million budget deficit.

The West Virginia United Students' Union, central to the organization of these midday rallies, painted the campus red as protesters donned ruby hues to voice their dissent. But their outcry echoed beyond the confines of their university, calling for an independent audit of the institution’s finances and a reduction in administrative spending. A rallying cry also rose, urging the state to increase investment in higher education.

Earlier this month, the university had recommended the elimination of 9% of the majors and 7% of the total faculty in Morgantown, affecting 434 students, equivalent to 2% of the total enrollment. Critics, however, argue that these figures fail to capture the full impact, as they exclude students whose secondary majors fall within the affected programs.

Among the departments targeted for elimination is the Department of World Languages, Literature, and Linguistics, offering bachelor’s degrees in French and Spanish, as well as Chinese, German, and Russian studies. Furthermore, the cuts extend to the master’s programs in linguistics and teaching English to speakers of other languages.

Close up of a faculty notice board plastered with several course cancellation posters from different languages, emphasizing the extent of the proposed academic cuts. Among the sea of announcements, a Spanish and Russian language course notice sits prominently, symbolizing the forthcoming eliminations. Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Professor Lisa DiBartolomeo, convener of the Russian studies and Slavic and East European studies programs, has been a fervent opponent of these sweeping cuts. She warns of a ripple effect with potentially drastic long-term implications for the students and, by extension, the state of West Virginia.

"The elimination of these language programs could invariably lead to a significant outflux of academia seeking greener pastures," she warned on Monday. "This move could escalate the existing brain-drain West Virginia has battled for decades."

The demographic reality of West Virginia offers a somber backdrop to this controversy. The state bears the dubious distinction of having lost the greatest percentage of residents from 2010 to 2020, being the only state with fewer residents than back in 1950.

The root cause of the university's budgetary conundrum, as stated by President E.Gordon Gee and other top university officials, rests upon enrollment decline. The student population at West Virginia University has dwindled by 10% since 2015.

Portrait of President E. Gordon Gee, in his office, laden with documents depicting budget graphs and faculty cut proposals. His expression is stern, mirroring the gravity of the university's fiscal circumstance. The dim light of his desk lamp illuminates the room, casting long shadows. Taken with Sony Alpha a7 III

Yet, despite the storm of uncertainty, life on campus retains some semblance of normality. The proposed cuts hold no immediate ramifications for fall classes while individual departments do retain the right to appeal. The university’s Board of Governors is anticipated to make a final decision on September 15, with staff and faculty reduction letters expected to be delivered by mid-October.

In a twist of fate, President Gee revealed that he would vacate his position once his contract expires in two years, an announcement made merely a week after his contract was extended by one year to June 2025. He will, nonetheless, continue to contribute as a member of the university’s law school faculty.