WVU provost issues final recommendations for four programs: Language programs cut, but 2 languages still to be taught

Aug. 29—MORGANTOWN — The WVU provost's office has heard four appeals in its Academic Transformation program portfolio review process and announced final recommendations in those cases to bring before the Board of Governors. The university will announce further recommendations through Sept. 5 as additional appeals are heard.

The proposed discontinuation of the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics has featured most prominently in public discussion and the final recommendation keeps instruction in two languages, and 5 FTE faculty positions, but eliminates all the bachelor's and master's degree programs.

Language instruction, the provost said, will continue in Spanish (a high demand language) and Chinese (a critical need language), offered based on student demand and instructional capacity. Faculty will be moved into another academic unit to be determined.

The provost said programs in this department were first put on notice in 2021 because of low and declining enrollments. The concerns remained when the department was subject to the current review process.

"The number of foreign language degrees awarded has been on the decline both nationally and in WVU's main recruiting market over the past 12 years, " the provost's office said. "Despite this trend, the final recommendation addresses many of the concerns brought forward in the past two weeks including the importance of offering language instruction at a land-grant institution."

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed said, "We listened to our students' feedback and have provided an option for face-to-face language instruction. This final recommendation will allow students to take language courses as electives and potentially as minors. This will also support our students pursuing prestigious scholarships and membership in honorary organizations such as Phi Beta Kappa. We feel this recommendation addresses the continued enrollment decline while serving the needs of our students."

Reed's comment on Phi Beta Kappa came in response to a statement released last week and a letter the society sent last week to WVU, saying it was "gravely concerned " about the discontinuation of the programs.

"The society recognizes the extraordinary challenges universities across the country face in remaining fiscally responsible while providing a well-rounded educational experience, " it said. "However, complete elimination of the opportunity for undergraduates to study a world language from faculty would severely limit an institution's ability to deliver a robust arts and sciences education and would be unprecedented at a campus housing a Phi Beta Kappa chapter."

West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported that Frederick Lawrence, national secretary and CEO of Phi Beta Kappa, said membership in the society requires students to show proficiency in a foreign language.

And Amy Gentzler, the university's Phi Beta Kappa chapter secretary and treasurer, said "We wouldn't be able to meet the criteria set up by national Phi Beta Kappa to have students be proficient in language. We would essentially be forfeiting the only chapter in West Virginia."

The provost's office noted that with only one first-time undergraduate student enrolled as a primary major in languages this fall, the department did not appeal recommendations to discontinue the degree programs.

Reed said, "While we are committed to providing some language instruction on campus, we will continue to explore additional language learning opportunities, such as establishing curriculum partnerships with other universities. Further, we will seek to create greater access to study abroad opportunities, where students can gain language proficiency through immersive experiences."

The office said it will pursue the elimination of the language requirement currently self-imposed on bachelor of arts majors in the Eberly College and a few other majors across the university. More details will be available by Sept. 15, when the BOG votes on the final recommendations.

A faculty member who asked not to be named told The Dominion Post, "I'll just say that the final recommendations confirm what many faculty members have suspected: that the appeals are a dog and pony show intended to provide an illusion of fairness and careful consideration. It is telling, but not surprising, that this is what the provost considers 'listening' to be."

The member said study abroad is for advanced language learners, not people looking for basic courses, and it is expensive. WVU students will be unqualified for, and likely unable to afford, those opportunities. "The future 'alternatives' are nothing but empty promises, just like the projected enrollment of 40, 000 students."

Sen. Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, said, "I was pleased to see WVU students and faculty given an opportunity to provide input on the academic transformation. More review and cuts need to be made now in the administrative ranks. I continue to share comments that I am receiving with WVU administration and legislative leadership. I look forward to a meeting in Charleston in early September with WVU 's administration where they will provide an update to the Senate Finance Committee as to the steps they are recommending to the BOG."

Former Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer offered extensive comments in an email exchange.

"WVU showed us what it was going to do this past spring, when 38 faculty were cut, 19 classified staff, and a whopping 77 non-classified staff were fired. More will be coming after these latest recommendations, which most of us assume will be rubber-stamped by the Board of Governors, " she wrote.

"The WVU administration hired consultants, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to do what they apparently wanted — come up with the 'data' to justify ignoring the earned enure of faculty and disregarding long and loyal service of classified and non-classified staff, whose seniority rights in case of layoffs were eliminated at the request of WVU in recent Legislative sessions.

"The recommendations of these 'consultants' will have the effect of dumbing down our revered flagship university, eliminating doctoral degrees and masters programs, primarily in humanities, and lessening the ability of West Virginia students to access a true liberal arts education. The WVU administration, following the lead of their consultants, are justifying these dramatic changes by claiming the numbers show 'what students want' — looking at lower enrollment and whacking, eliminating and cutting unfavored programs to the bone.

"Why is this a problem ? Because 18-year-old students — I was once one of them — don't always know what they need. That is why liberal arts curricula were established and why our top public and private higher education institutions require them. Students are required to explore a wide array of disciplines to help them learn to be critical thinkers and figure out what direction they want to go — not to decide that direction before that exposure to what are called the liberal arts.

"This recommendation will dumb down the education of a WVU degree. It feels ideological, like as others have said, WV students are not worth a first-class education. This process was too fast and there was too little analysis of all of the factors that led to the deficit — such as the over-investment in facilities, high bureaucratic salaries, and lack of state support for our flagship institution.

"It is shocking that not a single administrator has had any repercussions for the deficit. This process should have been slower and more deliberative, and involved staff and faculty and students more. Instead, the projected outcome, with only tiny changes, is likely to be rammed through, acting like there was a fair process.

"Assuming these changes go through, we are going to be a less vibrant community, losing all of these valuable people (we have already lost many), and our university will be less able to lead as a flagship should, " she concluded. "WVU is headed in the wrong direction. I hope and wish the Board of Governors would slow down this train, require the administration to seek assistance from the Legislature using the gigantic surplus it boasts about, and look at all of the factors, not just those recommended by the consultants, with the goal of doing as little harm as possible to this great institution, West Virginia University."

Division of Forestry and Natural Resources The initial recommendation was to merge the BS in Energy Land Management and BS in Environmental and Energy Resource Management into a single new program and major ; BSF Forest Resource Management, reduce faculty positions, merge with the BSF in Wood Science and Technology ; BSF Wood Science and Technology, reduce faculty positions, merge with the BSF in Forest Resource Management ; BSR Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Resources, discontinuance ; PhD Natural Resources Science, merge with the Division of Resource Economics and Management. Reduce faculty positions to from 28 to 22.

Following the appeal, the office said, the BSR in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources will be recommended for discontinuance in line with the preliminary recommendation.

Other recommendations were not appealed and will be presented in the final recommendation to the BOG.

Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering The initial recommendation: BSBS Biometric Systems Engineering, deliver as a minor and /or area of emphasis ; Computer Engineering, reduce the number of faculty positions ; Computer Science, reduce the number of faculty ; Electrical Engineering, reduce the number of faculty positions ; MSSE Software Engineering, reduce the number of faculty ; PhD Computer Engineering: Continue at the Current Level of Activity. Reduce total faculty positions from 35 to 28.

The office said the final recommendation is unchanged from the preliminary recommendation. Regading discontinuing the BSBSE Biometric Systems Engineering program, it said the program has nine students this fall, seven of which are seniors and would be unaffected. Other programs would continue with specific actions required, including reducing the number of faculty positions.

School of Public Health The preliminary proposal: BS Public Health, reduce faculty positions, discontinue and merge with the BS in Health Services Management and Leadership ; MPH Public Health, reduce faculty positions ; MHA Health Administration, reduce faculty positions ; MS Biostatistics, reduce faculty positions ; MS Industrial Hygiene, explore the development of an intercollegiate collaboration to deliver this program ; PhD Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences, discontinuance. Reduce faculty positions by from 40 to 26 FTE.

Following the appeal, the faculty reduction recommendation was adjusted, and 11 positions will be cut, leaving 29 intact. The adjustment will permit the school to maintain the accreditation for and operation of its current academic programs. Several other aspects of the preliminary recommendation were not appealed.

Recommendations not appealed The office said the School of Medicine, School of Pharmacy, Center for Women's and Gender Studies, Department of Philosophy, Management Department and Department of Mining Engineering did not file a notice of appeal.

The BOG will hear public comments from those who have signed up or submitted their comments in writing in advance of Sept. 14 before the Sept. 15 vote.