WVU faculty members vote no confidence in President Gordon Gee

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Dive Brief:

  • West Virginia University’s faculty members on Wednesday passed a resolution expressing no confidence in President E. Gordon Gee’s leadership as he seeks to cut programs to remedy the public flagship’s $45 million budget shortfall.
  • The motion said Gee has not “fully and honestly” disclosed the source of the deficit, arguing that “poor planning, faulty decision making, and financial mismanagement on the administration’s own part” contributed to the shortfall. Faculty members overwhelmingly supported the motion, with 797 voting for it and 100 against.
  • They also passed a separate motion, 747-79, calling for an immediate freeze of the university’s ongoing academic restructuring, which has included plans to lay off faculty members.

Dive Insight:

The votes come about a month after WVU’s administration unveiled plans to cut nearly three dozen academic programs and 169 faculty positions. The university scaled back some of those planned cuts after appeals, including by preserving some world language programming.

The university has been reworking its operations to address a budget hole that officials said could balloon to $75 million by fiscal year 2028.

Gee has pointed to factors like demographic challenges — a shrinking college-aged population — for causing the budget shortfall.

But the faculty resolution pinned the blame partly on the administration, saying Gee’s pledge in 2014 to raise enrollment to 40,000 students was irresponsible. Faculty contend Gee used this promised student growth to justify campus projects that increased the university’s debt load.

WVU used two loans totaling more than $78 million to pay for projects on its Beckley campus, which it acquired for $8 million in 2015, according to The Chronicle for Higher Education. In June 2020, the university’s long-term debt liabilities grew to $810 million, up from $380 million a decade prior, the publication reported.

The motion also accused Gee of supporting cuts to revenue-generating programs and downplaying how these reductions will impact students. While the administration has said the cuts will only affect 2% of students, the motion argued reduced course availability and larger class sizes will harm many more of them.

“I must say that if I had done all of those things, I’d probably vote no confidence myself,” Gee said to faculty members before the vote.

To defend himself, Gee listed several of the university’s accomplishments since he stepped into the role in 2014, including achieving the Carnegie Classification’s R1 status, which is given to universities with the highest levels of research activity. He also pointed to the university’s high bond ratings and growing academic medical enterprise.

The other faculty motion took aim at how the administration has handled academic restructuring. It says officials have relied on “ill-informed consulting and faulty data” from companies like rpk Group and Huron Consulting Group.

Both of these consulting firms are expensive, known for recommending mass layoffs and for weakening tenure protections while preserving senior administrators’ salaries, according to the motion.

A spokesperson from Huron said it doesn’t comment on client work. Rpk Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After the votes, WVU’s governing board put out a statement acknowledging their passage.

“The Board of Governors unequivocally supports the leadership of President Gee and the strategic repositioning of WVU and rejects the multiple examples of misinformation that informed these resolutions,” Board Chair Taunja Willis-Miller said. “The University is transforming to better reflect the needs of today, and we must continue to act boldly.

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