September 11, 2023
Since my arrival at West Virginia University, I have spoken consistently about three critical missions we must address as a university community.
One, we would put our students first.
Two, we would be a fiercely land-grant university.
And three, we would act as One WVU.
I also emphasized we would focus within our four pillars of Education, Healthcare, Prosperity and Purpose. Over the last decade, we have done that.
Today I want to focus instead on some of the misrepresentations that have been circulating of late.
- Yes, I had an aspirational system-wide enrollment goal of 40,000. Never, however,
did that aspirational number affect bricks-and-mortar decisions. A simple fact:
we have not made a building decision based on a theoretical number.
- And keep in mind, despite challenging enrollment trends, West Virginia University
has consistently gained market share – plus we are gaining ground in retention
and graduation rates.
- Did the pandemic affect our goals. Of course, it did.
- But let me be clear: We did not build budgets around aspirational goals. Nor did
our debt load increase by 55%. Please stop citing erroneous information.
- Another thing to keep in mind: the University maintains an AA- rating from Fitch,
an Aa3 rating from Moody’s and an A rating from Standard & Poor’s. In fact,
the rating agencies gave us a stable outlook because of our University’s senior
leadership and how we are managing the financial issues we are facing. This is
very significant. Simply review the ratings agencies’ assessment of higher education
writ large as well as of other institutions –they are far more skeptical.
- As to the budget deficit, multiple factors have contributed to it: the pandemic/post-pandemic
era; enrollment trends that all in higher ed are grappling with; increasing costs
for utilities, PEIA, payroll and supplies.
- And we have been working to address spending challenges for a number of years. Unfortunately, that meant the elimination over the past several years of more than 500 non-academic positions saving nearly $21 million. The goal was to streamline operations and maximize efficiencies, and we are making progress in both.
Now let me touch on this rhetoric surrounding Academic Transformation.
The University began assessing its strengths and areas of concern back in 2016.
In early 2021 - before the current structural budget deficit – we refined this
Academic Transformation process, sharing with the West Virginia University
community what was involved.
Yes, the budget challenge accelerated it, but it was not the cause of
something that is necessary for West Virginia University and any institution
of higher education to undertake.
- Also, throughout the past three years, most of the programs recommended for discontinuance
received notice they were not operating at optimum levels, including declining
enrollment. They had multiple opportunities to bring forth viable options for
- Also, the faculty have been involved since 2021 and to say otherwise is false.
- The final recommendations under consideration will keep our university financially
sound and set the stage for future investments in programs that meet future student
and societal needs.
- The notion these recommended changes will bar our students from intellectual exploration
or a well-rounded liberal arts education are also false. West Virginia University
has been – and always will be – a university that offers a variety of majors
and experiences prepare our students for the future.
- Our University will still offer more than 300 majors, as well as study-abroad trips,
cultural events, internships and community service programs that open the world
to our students.
- We must align majors with future careers – it is a necessity for our students in today’s world.
I know we all care so much about West Virginia University, and we will have disagreements along the way around how to meet the challenges of the day. I can accept that. But I will not accept the narrative being promulgated that we have mismanaged this University or we are making it a lesser university. That is furthest from the truth.
What we are doing is working to embark on making West Virginia University even stronger than it already is and to be a stand-out institution that creates opportunities for the children of West Virginia as well as students from every state and 100 countries who attend this great institution.