The university is considering cutting 32 majors amid a financial crisis. Some students may need to change majors in order to remain a Mountaineer; others say they’ll likely be forced to pursue higher education elsewhere. 


As West Virginia University students were moving into their dorms and apartments to start the fall semester, news broke that dozens of the university’s academic programs had been marked for discontinuation. The pending changes, which include faculty jobs, are in an effort to reverse the university’s financial crisis. 

Felicia Carrara, 19, didn’t expect to learn that both of her majors — international studies and Russian — would be impacted by the pending cuts. The Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, which includes Russian, was marked to be completely dissolved, and language classes are part of her international studies requirements. 

“I was crestfallen,” she said.

Originally from Maryland, Carrara chose WVU based on scholarship offers and the World Languages courses, where she could learn more than one language. Now, her university is exploring a partnership with an online language app instead of department faculty.

“If it all gets cut, and I made my four-year plans for somewhere that’s not able to fulfill them, then I have to transfer, I’ll regret having chosen [WVU],” Carrara said. 

WVU students have stepped onto campus in a time of national scrutiny as academia and journalists wonder about the ripple effects of cutting dozens of majors at the state’s largest public university. Students are navigating those questions in real-time, and the university had said dozens of freshmen and sophomores would need a new major if the cuts are approved. 

“The mood on campus is very different now. People are scared, and you can feel it,” said Annie Neely, a graduate student in social studies who is also pursuing a teaching certification. “People are really uncertain about what’s going to happen — the students and the faculty.”

In July, WVU leaders announced about half of its academic programs were under review as the university was facing a $45 million shortfall, which they largely attributed to declining student enrollment and inflation. Some faculty and students have pushed back on that explanation and attributed the budget crisis to financial mismanagement not made by faculty members. 

Their recommendations were shared Aug. 11, which they said were based on student enrollment trends, enrollment in majors and departments, programs’ financial status and more. In all, 32 of the university’s 338 majors on its Morgantown campus could be discontinued.

The proposed program closures and 169 faculty position cuts have been met by shock, anger and despair by faculty, students and alumni. 

Daniel Stets, 25, is a second-year graduate student in mathematics. University leaders recommended discontinuing its masters and doctoral math programs.

“I had no idea that they were going to be eliminated,” he said. “I thought they might reduce the faculty.”

The largest share of the proposed program closures are in graduate programs, and some undergraduate students are likely to be affected as well — especially lower classmen, like Carrara, who haven’t yet completed more than 60 credit hours. 

There are 41 sophomores and 23 first-time freshmen in programs that have been recommended for discontinuation, according to Evan Widders, associate provost for undergraduate education. Widders thought the majority of sophomores would be able to be taught out and the university would attempt to include others in the teach out, as well.

Academic advisors will point impacted students to other majors that might interest them, he explained.

“It’s making students very anxious, and I don’t blame them at all,” said Widders, who added that the university has highlighted mental health services for students during this time.

University leaders have said the cuts are likely to affect less than 2% of the student population on the Morgantown campus. 

Faculty can appeal the university’s program recommendations. The process is expected to wrap up early next month before the Board of Governor’s makes its final vote Sept. 15.

Department leaders were encouraged to reach out to students who could be impacted by the program changes, and students have been asked to meet with their advisors. Last week, the university hosted a Zoom informational session for parents.

“We will do everything we can to help students complete successfully at WVU,” Widders said. 

Marisa Porco, a master’s student in mathematics, said eliminating the math doctorate program will force her to move to continue her studies. WVU has the state’s only doctoral mathematics program.

“It is frustrating that I am potentially going to have to spend hundreds of more dollars applying for math Ph.D. programs,” she said.

The mathematics department is appealing the university’s decision, saying in a news release, “While the exact methodology for this selection was not made public, the Provost’s Office cited a number of metrics based on enrollment and faculty numbers, some of which, in the case of Mathematics, we find questionable and misguided.”

Porco pointed to a statement made by West Virginia University President Gordon Gee in a Washington Post article, published Aug. 18, that made her feel like the leadership already made up its mind about the future of the math department.

Gee told the Washington Post, “Someone else is going to have a great PhD program in mathematics … And you know what? God bless them.”

As news of the pending cuts has rippled across the country, with national outlets examining what it might mean for West Virginia and broader higher education, students have started the fall semester amid jam-packed events lineup put on by the university.

The university’s Fall Fest featured a performance by Grammy-nominee Flo Rida. One Welcome Week activity brought students into the revered blue-and-gold football field to sign their class flag.  

But, students said the pending cuts have cast a somber shadow over the beginning of the semester. 

“There’s no way I would stay in the environment. I feel bad for the people who just came in,” said Stets, who expects to graduate next May. 

Now, he worries that the program cuts and backlash against the university may affect his ability to land in a doctorate program elsewhere.

“I’m worried about the reputation of my degree now,” he said. “Math is very competitive.” 

There have been bursts of organization on campus: faculty, student employees and others formed West Virginia Campus Workers in hopes of a collective bargaining voice. Students have organized a walk out and protest on Monday, encouraging participants to wear red. They’re calling for an independent audit of university finances. 

Neely’s program, a master’s plus teaching certificate and referred to as MAC plus, was cut over the summer. There wasn’t an official reason given, she said, but she said students felt it was largely due to the university’s budget problems. She is far enough into the program that she’ll be able to graduate before the cuts effects settle in.

“I’m glad I am getting out. It’s like, whew, I just made it,” Neely said. 

She explained that losing her program, which is geared to put professionals in public education classrooms, meant less teachers in a state with a glaring teacher shortage. She worries what the next round of cuts might mean for the future of the state.

“Why are we eliminating our opportunities?” she asked.

** West Virginia Watch is a nonprofit media source. Articles are shared under creative commons license. Please visit https://westvirginiawatch.com/ for more independent Mountain State news coverage.

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