Proposed Program Cuts at West Virginia University "Alarming"

AAUP president Irene Mulvey issued the following statement today.

The recent announcement of proposed cuts to thirty-two undergraduate and graduate programs at West Virginia University (WVU), nine percent of its majors and sixteen percent of its full-time faculty, is alarming for a number of reasons. The AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure provide that faculty must be meaningfully involved in every stage of the decision-making process to discontinue a program or department of instruction and that the decision be based essentially upon educational considerations, as determined primarily by faculty. This does not appear to be the case at WVU.

More broadly, under principles and standards developed jointly by the AAUP, the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), an institution’s faculty holds primary responsibility for curriculum and educational policy by virtue of its collective expertise and training. The decision to discontinue an academic program is a matter of educational policy, and faculty should be afforded an initial and meaningful role in any deliberations over program closure. Termination of faculty appointments must be based on educational considerations and “reflect long-range judgments that the educational mission of the institution as a whole will be enhanced by the discontinuance.”

The mission of WVU is to create “a diverse and inclusive culture that advances education, healthcare, and prosperity for all by providing access and opportunity; by advancing high-impact research; and by leading transformation.” Slashing multiple core academic programs without drawing on faculty expertise would seem to undermine not only that mission but WVU’s role in serving the common good.

The AAUP has long acknowledged that program cuts at colleges and universities may be necessary when an institution declares financial exigency, but only under extraordinary circumstances due to a demonstrable financial crisis that fundamentally compromises the academic integrity of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means. The WVU board and administration have not declared that this crisis has risen to that level. Under AAUP-supported standards, the faculty must be involved in the determination of whether an institution is experiencing bona fide financial exigency and, if so, where cuts to academic programs should be made. By and large, academic program closings across the nation in recent years fail to meet these standards and represent a violation of the principles on which American higher education should operate. They must be contested by a vigorous, principled, and informed faculty.

We urge WVU’s governing board and administration to affirm their commitment to widely accepted principles of shared governance and to uphold these principles articulating the faculty’s role in addressing its financial crisis. The AAUP will continue to monitor the situation at West Virginia University closely.

Publication Date: 
Thursday, August 17, 2023