Sep 15, 2023 - Economy

West Virginia University slashes liberal arts programs

E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University, in New York City in 2009.

E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University, in New York City in 2009. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

West Virginia University's board voted on Friday to cut the school's world languages department and a third of its education department as part of an effort to keep the school "accessible and affordable and relevant," its chair said.

Why it matters: The university's decision to reduce parts of its liberal arts department may be a glimpse of the future of U.S. humanities studies, and more narrowly, may limit students in the poor, rural state.

  • The reductions come on top of major staff and program cuts approved by the board in June, which included 12 graduate and doctorate programs and 132 positions.
  • The board's meeting on Friday was briefly interrupted by students protesting the cuts, and among dozens of speakers at the meeting, no one spoke in support of the plan, AP reports.

By the numbers: The board voted Friday to fire more than 140 faculty members and 28 majors, which is around 8% of the school's programs.

  • Those figures were lower than originally proposed.
  • The university currently faces a $45 million budget deficit, the board has said.

Other majors in fields such as art history, music, higher education administration, art history and music, architecture, natural resource management were also cut.

  • STEM studies, too, were hit, with the school cutting its PhDs in mathematics, occupational and environmental health and its bachelor's degree in biometric systems engineering.

It decided to retain seven Chinese and Spanish teaching positions for students learning a language as an elective.

What they're saying: E. Gordon Gee, the university's president, said in a statement that, because of the board's vote, students' "futures will be even brighter."

  • "The challenges we have confronted have been tough, but we must come together to envision and plan for a stronger West Virginia University," he said.

The big picture: The school's deficit came from shrinking enrollment numbers, debt from building project and losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Like many higher education institutions, it had for years poured money into growth strategies, but its enrollment figures never rebounded, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Go deeper: Students can get admitted to college without ever applying

Axios' Jennifer Kingson contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of Chinese and Spanish teaching positions at the university.

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