WVU, lawmakers talk budget cuts

Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 6:50 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Less than a week after faculty members at West Virginia University voted no confidence in President Gordon Gee, his vice president took the university’s response to lawmakers in Charleston.

Rob Alsop, vice president for strategic initiatives at WVU, testified Monday before the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. His mission, in part, claiming to separate fact from fiction.

“You’ve heard a lot of things,” he told lawmakers. “That WVU is eviscerating its institution. That we’ll no longer be an R-1 (research) institution. That there’s a malaise going on in Morgantown. Maybe Gordon’s got his bow tie tied too tight, or that we’ll no longer be a land grant institution.”

The vice president saying none of that is the case. Instead, he pointed to a loss of enrollment, estimating WVU has about 5,000 fewer students than 2014 and the decline continues. He says, combined with inflation, that is leading to a $45 million deficit.

“We’ve committed that we’re not going to kick this can down the road, and we’re not going to do a double-digit tuition (increase) on the backs of our students to solve these problems,” Alsop said.

The remaining option -- cut expenses.

Its top expense -- salaries.

The university proposing to eliminate as many as 30 programs and the faculty who teach those courses. Alsop saying programs slated to be discontinued have low enrollment in some cases fewer than 10 students.

“Given where we are and to position -- we can’t starve everything,” he told lawmakers. “So we had to stop saying, ‘Yes,’ to everything, so we can properly feed what was remaining, and I understand and know that is hard.”

Lawmakers supporting the moves, even Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, who was among those calling the budget cuts disruptive.

“I do believe it is disruptive,” he told the committee. “I’m seeing a lot of the reporting that’s going across the country and about other states that are taking a look at what West Virginia is doing, because they’re all facing the similar situation, and I think you guys are jumping into the water first, and I think that shows a lot of courage.”

Alsop says the administration expected last week’s no confidence vote from faculty.

It does not shake the confidence of Sen. Michael Oliverio, R-Monongalia, whose district includes WVU faculty.

“Simply put, do you have confidence in President Gee?,” asked WSAZ′s Curtis Johnson.

“I have confidence in President Gee,” he replied. “He’s governing right now at a very difficult time.”

“But again, your message to all of those people who voted no confidence,” Johnson asked.

“The majority of the faculty at West Virginia University didn’t vote during that vote of no confidence,” Oliverio replied. “The majority failed to attend.”

Alsop told lawmakers 98 percent of research at the university will survive as will 95 percent of its Ph.D. production.

Alsop says a public hearing and a board of governors meeting, both set for later this week, could be among the final steps in what many call a transformation.