West Virginia University no longer plans to completely eliminate world languages


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Dive Brief:

  • West Virginia University is sparing some of its world languages programming as it slashes its academic offerings to correct a $45 million budget shortfall. 
  • Instead of cutting language offerings entirely, the public flagship institution said Tuesday it would preserve instruction in Chinese and Spanish — but not as full majors. It will offer elective classes, and potentially minors, in those languages while phasing out all other language programming and degrees, including in German and Russian. WVU offers eight languages. 
  • Initially, WVU said it would cut all of its 24 language faculty members. Now, it will look to keep five faculty members and move them to a yet-to-be-determined department. 

Dive Insight:

WVU this month said it would move to drop nearly three dozen academic programs to address its budget deficit. University President E. Gordon Gee has said the budget hole could swell to $75 million in the coming years due to financial challenges and enrollment declines.

Gee’s proposal generated shockwaves across the WVU campus and beyond and prompted a massive student protest this month. 

But the planned cuts to world languages caused particular uproar, and Gee’s proposed alternative — a partnership with a fellow Big 12 university or a language app — drew scorn.

“I can tell you that no other state flagship university has forsaken language education for its students or made the kinds of cuts to the humanities that WVU is undertaking,” Paula Krebs, executive director of the Modern Language Association, wrote to Gee this month. “Such cuts dramatically narrow educational opportunities not just for humanities students but for STEM and business students as well.”

Gee and other top WVU officials have said they are only downsizing low-enrollment programs and that cutbacks would affect under 2% of the institution’s student body. Officials said Tuesday that just one first-time undergraduate was enrolled as a primary language major for the fall term.

“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,” officials said in a public statement. “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.”

Faculty are to find out around mid-October whether they will be laid off. University officials said they may ask some to stay longer to help wind down language programs. 

Unsurprisingly, the process has not endeared Gee to faculty, who plan to hold a no-confidence vote on his leadership next week. They’ll also vote on a resolution against the academic cuts. 

Faculty members have come after Gee for not cutting administrative jobs as well. Amid this criticism, WVU this month announced the retirement of its vice president of talent and culture later this year and said it would nix the position. 

Gee has already announced plans to leave the presidency once his contract expires in June 2025 and teach at WVU’s College of Law.


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