A budget proposal brought to the floor this week in the West Virginia senate would cut funding to WVU by $20 million.
Aimed at addressing the $500 million deficit the state faces, the proposal cuts funding to each university in the state by 15 percent.
In an interview with MetroNews, President E. Gordon Gee said the University has made cuts of $30 million over the last three years, and further cuts would hurt the school.
“Reductions of this magnitude will have a severe, negative impact to our institution,” Gee said in a letter sent out to “friends of WVU.”
Gee’s letter is part of an unprecedented University-wide call to action urging supporters of WVU to contact their legislators and express the necessity of funding WVU.
“I’m not aware of anytime since I’ve been here (since 2009) that there’s been a call to action like this,” said John Bolt, senior executive director of communications at WVU.
The University hopes this call to action will encourage legislators to either reduce or eliminate further cuts to WVU and to higher education in the state as a whole.
“We understand our appropriations may be reduced,” said Rob Alsop, vice president for legal, government and entrepreneurial affairs at WVU. “We’re hopeful that by the time a budget passes that we don’t receive further cuts or the cuts are reduced to something much more reasonable.”
Should the cuts take place, the University will have to take steps to reduce its budget and cut costs.
“It will mean significant layoffs for our staff, increased tuition for our students, a fundamental change to WVU Extension Service and the reduction of academic programs,” Gee said.
The University increased tuition and fees by 5 percent in its last budget, and hopes to avoid increasing it more. Tuition has increased by $4,200 since 2002, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
“We don’t want to impact our students, but there’s only so much we can do,” Alsop said.
While the Senate proposal is alarming to higher education officials, two other plans are on the table.
Gov. Jim Justice’s plan, which Gee supports, includes no cuts to higher education, and the House’s plan cuts higher education by 4.4 percent.
“We are on life support. This is a state that can go one of two ways. We need to stabilize that patient. And, the Governor’s proposal will do that. And then we can start to grow. But, if you try to continue to cut yourself into prosperity it just simply does not work,” Gee said on MetroNews’ Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval.
While eliminating the cuts is the preferred option for WVU, officials do understand that cuts may take place, and hope for a smaller amount, such as the House’s proposal.
“The House proposed a 4.4 percent cut to the University. While we obviously don’t like that, we don’t have to issue a call to action for that,” Alsop said.
Justice has said he will veto both the House and Senate proposals.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) has adamantly defended the budget proposal.
“We provided the flexibility for all these institutions to manage themselves to get more from the dollars they’re allocated,” Carmichael told MetroNews.
The University maintains that it has gone through enough cuts and cannot afford more.
“This additional reduction will be devastating to West Virginia University and all of the other four-year institutions in this state,” Gee said.
Alsop said the University is already looking at ways to be more efficient from an administrative standpoint, but a cut of this size would force officials to look into options such as tuition increases and layoffs.
As the proposals move forward on Wednesday, Gee hopes that a solution can be reached that does not cut funding from WVU.
“This is a pivotal moment in our institution—and our state’s—history,” Gee said. “We must come together to carry the message to our state’s leaders: An investment in West Virginia University is an investment in the state of West Virginia.”