Photo caption: Rob Alsop, vice president of strategic initiatives at West Virginia University, spoke to lawmakers on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, during legislative interims about the budget situation at the university. (Petty Bennett | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

West Virginia University’s Board of Governors is expected to cut dozens of academic programs and jobs this week in an effort to deal with the university’s financial shortfall.


West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee did not attend his scheduled meeting with lawmakers Monday morning to discuss the university’s $45 million budget shortfall. The university’s Board of Governors is expected to cut dozens of academic programs and jobs on Friday in an effort to deal with the financial issues.

Rob Alsop, vice president of strategic initiatives at WVU, told lawmakers that Gee had a “personal matter” that prevented him from being at the Capitol in Charleston, where lawmakers gathered for this month’s interim meetings

In front of the Joint Committee on Finance, Alsop defended Gee’s leadership and said the pending changes, while “not joyful,” are necessary and driven by declining student enrollment numbers overall and in specific majors. 

The proposed changes, which include eliminating graduate degrees in mathematics and several world languages majors, are expected to affect less than 2% of students, according to university officials. 

“We have to have academic programs that drive enrollment if we’re going to be successful. It’s a simple fact,” Alsop said. 

“It’s not a crisis, but it’s something we have to address,” he added. 

More than 100 faculty jobs are likely to be eliminated. 

WVU leaders have come under national scrutiny for their proposal to cut 28 academic programs and merge others at the state’s flagship and only R1 university. The decision was recommended by consulting firm, rpk Group, which is taking a look at struggling universities elsewhere amid a national dip in college enrollment

Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, who previously served

EditSign as chair of West Virginia State University’s Board of Governors, questioned the long-term status of Gee at the helm of WVU following last week’s faculty vote of no confidence in their leader.

Gee’s contract was recently extended to June 30, 2025, then he plans to step down.

Alsop said that the Board of Governors requested this “Academic Transformation” to deal with university finances and are in support of Gee. The Board of Governors issued a statement immediately following the vote of no confidence that emphasized their backing of Gee. 

“As it gets to the end of President Gee’s tenure, our Board will do a full national search to get the very best university president they can,” Alsop told lawmakers. 

State cash infusion won’t fix finances, WVU says 

WVU has tried to address its financial shortfall, which was estimated to reach $75 million in five years, with tuition increases and staff cuts. 

Faculty and students have pushed back on the university’s narrative that the financial deficit has been driven by declining enrollment. They’ve called for more transparency about what led to the financial shortfall instead of leaders largely blaming enrollment declines and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

WVU has spent millions of dollars on construction projects in recent years, including a $100 million new building for the university’s business school. 

Alsop said Monday that those building projects were driven by student enrollment in programs or a need to replace outdated buildings.  

He said a one-time cash investment from the state wouldn’t solve the university’s financial issues. 

State funding for higher education has tapered off in recent years. According to an analysis from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, if lawmakers had kept higher education funding at the same levels as a decade ago, WVU would have an estimated additional $37.6 million in state funding for the coming fiscal year.

“If I thought there was a realistic opportunity to get another $50 million or $60 million in base funding every year for WVU, we would have been down here. But one-time funding is not going to fix the enrollment challenges long-term,” Alsop said.

He went over the university’s finances and budget deficit and “Academic Transformation” plan with lawmakers, which included an effort to dispel misinformation about the ongoing changes at the state’s largest public university.

“Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Alsop said. 

The bulk of WVU’s $1.2 billion budget goes to paying for salaries and benefits for more than 7,000 employees.

A recent legislative-mandated rate hike for Public Employees Insurance Agency users has also affected WVU’s financial issues. Alsop said more than once that he “wasn’t complaining” about the lawmakers’ decision to increase the rates but said it has resulted in an increased financial obligation for the university. 

Alsop also focused on the future of the university and the hundreds of academic majors that will still be offered at the university. The university will protect its coveted R1 status, he said.

“Students are a priority,” he said. “If we don’t increase market share and have programs that are relevant, we could lose another 5,000 students.”

Ninety-one undergraduate students are currently enrolled in the programs up for elimination and another 57 are pursuing a dual major with one program marked for elimination. 

Students who are juniors and seniors will be “taught out,” Alsop said, which means the university will ensure they’re able to complete their degrees at WVU. He said that the university will help lower-level students find a new major or new university.

All current graduate students will be included in the teach out, as well. There are 238 graduate students enrolled in programs marked for elimination — 4% of the graduate student population.

Faculty whose positions are being eliminated will be notified in October

The university recently wrapped up its academic appeals process, in which some programs, including the MFA in Creative Writing, were able to successfully reverse elimination. Alsop said 22 faculty jobs were preserved, as well. 

A public comment period is scheduled for Thursday ahead of the Board of Governors vote on Friday, Sept. 15. 

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