West Virginia University will move to eliminate nearly three dozen degree programs, including all of its world languages, as well as merge several other academic offerings, it announced Friday.
It’s also aggressively cutting its faculty numbers, looking to shed 169 positions.
WVU has been reviewing about half of its programs as part of massive rework of the public flagship’s academic operations that means to correct an estimated $45 million budget shortfall.
A dozen undergraduate majors and 20 graduate-level programs are on the chopping block, which the university said will affect 147 undergraduate students and 287 graduate students, based on fall 2023 enrollment.
Many of the programs safe from being cut will lose faculty positions. For instance, the civil and environmental engineering program will need to reduce its faculty numbers to 14. The university did not disclose in documents released Friday how many faculty members work within each program.
“While we view these preliminary recommendations for reductions and discontinuations as necessary, we are keenly aware of the people they will affect,” President E. Gordon Gee said in a statement Friday. “We do not take that lightly. These faculty are our colleagues, our neighbors and our friends. These decisions are difficult to make.”
Departments can appeal the decisions, and those proceedings begin this month. But it’s unclear how many would be saved as Gee pursues a more austere vision for the university.
WVU’s governing board plans to vote on the cuts Sept. 15, and the administration will inform faculty and staff in mid-October whether they are being laid off.
The American Association of University Professors, the leading faculty group in the U.S., on Friday called for instructors to have a “decisive role” in determining which programs are discontinued, noting these decisions should be based on educational considerations.
The university offered a lengthier explanation for why it is nixing its seven language programs, in areas like Chinese, French and German. It said student interest in the programs “is very low and declining.”
The institution is also considering eliminating language requirements for all majors.
However, officials said they recognize some students will want foreign language instruction, so they’re examining whether to work with an online language app or another university in the Big 12 athletic conference.
Other degrees the university is seeking to drop include art history and biometric systems engineering.
University officials want to merge other programs. WVU’s range of master’s programs in theater production — such as costume design, lighting design and scene design — will be combined into a single MFA.
The public flagship’s main campus in Morgantown currently offers 338 majors, the university said Friday. The cuts don’t affect its other two campuses, Potomac State College and WVU Tech.
The university enrolls most of its 27,000 students on the Morgantown campus and employs more than 3,100 part-time, full-time and extension faculty members.
The university began restructuring its academic operations more than two years ago, following declarations by Gee that it needed to adapt to financial impediments such as the COVID-19 pandemic and “a loss of public trust” in higher education.
In 2021, it began merging two of its colleges to form the College of Applied Human Sciences.
More recently, it has started combining other colleges, announcing a consolidation of its College of Creative Arts and the Reed College of Media in June. It will also begin meshing its agricultural college and its extension program this month.
Gee won’t be sticking around as president to see whether the cutbacks bear fruit, however. He plans to relinquish the role once his contract expires in June 2025.