West Virginia University administrators announced a proposed transformation timeline during a Faculty Senate meeting Monday, outlining tentative dates for Reduction in Force notifications and academic program assessments.
Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop told the campus community that the University is preparing for a smaller institution with workforce and program reductions, including a voluntary Work-Time Reduction Program.
The University is expected to face a $45 million budget deficit in the 2023-24 fiscal year with the potential to expand to $75 million over the next five years, as first announced by President E. Gordon Gee during his State of University address in March.
Since then, school officials have been holding campus conversations and communicating with departments regarding the next steps.
The deficit is the result of inflation, low student enrollment and a loss of financial support in higher education across the country, Gee said during a Faculty Senate meeting on Monday.
Although Gee and other school officials have not determined which programs will be reduced or discontinued, he said that the process will begin soon.
“I want to wring the damn fear out of the place,” Gee said. “The sooner you know where we are and what we’re going to do and what programs may no longer be with us or that will be put in a different category, then we can move on about our business.”
How are programs getting reviewed?
Provost Maryanne Reed said that academic transformation, which started in response to the pandemic and aims to increase enrollment and student success, will now be accelerated and include a more extensive review of academic programs to streamline current offerings and ensure the school’s limited resources are supporting growth for students.
The process will review how much each program costs, enrollment and revenue trends, contribution to the school’s R1 status and employment data.
“Through this process, even programs that we know to be of high academic caliber might be identified for reduction or discontinuation due to changes in student demand, market factors and other external forces that are beyond our control,” Reed said. “We simply can't afford to do everything that we're currently doing. And we need to focus on areas that have the greatest impact.”
She said reviewing programs could result in departmental or college mergers, and that the University may reduce reliance on part-time instructors, reduce teaching overloads and course equivalencies and review and standardize administrative stipends to make instruction more efficient.
The University will also work with the rpk GROUP, a higher education consultant, on an hourly contract to conduct the reviews and identify how to make Academic Support Units, such as the Office of Global Affairs, more efficient, according to Reed.
Despite this, several faculty and staff members expressed concern over the University’s decision to pay an external consultant to conduct the reviews while it is already facing financial insecurity.
Dan Totzkay, assistant professor of communication studies, asked administrators why they decided to hire an external consultant as opposed to leveraging internal resources since the University is already facing financial struggles.
However, Alsop said that the school’s decision was based on what similar universities are doing and did not say how much WVU is spending on external consulting.
Reduction in Force and Severance
Faculty Reduction in Force (RIF) refers to the process when tenured, tenure-track, teaching-track or service-track faculty appointments are terminated in response to institutional reorganization during the program reduction or discontinuation process.
RIF plans will list which faculty are and are not subject to RIF or non-renewal and will be developed by the Provost’s Office, the Dean’s Office and the departmental chair along with input from Talent and Culture and the Office of General Counsel.
Those subject to RIF will be assessed on performance, knowledge and qualifications and seniority. A RIF Review Committee will review and approve each RIF Plan before they are implemented.
BOG Rule 4.7, which details severance and RIF, currently states that severance packages may be offered to faculty impacted by RIF and that those given offers will have 45 days to review and accept an additional seven days after accepting to revoke their signature.
Vice President and General Counsel Stephanie Taylor said that the University is proposing several amendments to clarify parts of the Rule because this is the first time it will be used.
On May 22, a 30-day public comment for Rule 4.7 and Rule 3.9 will begin.
The proposed faculty severance packages will be limited to tenured, tenure-track, teaching-track and service-track faculty and will be presented to the Board of Governors with a public comment period.
The proposed packages would offer individuals between eight and 10 months of pay.
For research-track, library-track or lecturer faculty, non-renewal of appointment notifications will be given a minimum of 60-days’ notice for contracts ending in 2023 and during the September/October timeline for those ending in May 2024.
Some faculty may be asked to participate in the teach-out period and could be offered a retention bonus if they accept.
The final version of Rule 4.7 and the Faculty Severance Package Structure will be presented to the BOG around July 21.
Proposed Transformation Timeline
Taylor announced the WVU Transformation Timeline, which will be voted on during the BOG meeting May 17 alongside changes to BOG Rule 4.7 and proposed faculty severance packages.
According to Taylor’s timeline, the campus community can expect to be notified of which programs were marked as programs of concern during the preliminary data-driven assessment given to the Provost Office on July 10. The flagged programs will then undergo the program review process.
On Aug. 11, faculty will be notified by their deans and chairs of which programs have been recommended for reduction or discontinuation by the Provost Office. The campus community will be notified on Aug. 14.
By Aug. 18, chairs or faculty must file an Intent to Appeal form, and from Aug. 21 through Sept. 5, program review appeal committee hearings will take place.
From Aug. 22 to Sept. 8, faculty will be able to submit comments for review or sign up to speak at the BOG meeting on Sept. 14; however, only two people per program will be allowed to speak.
The BOG will then meet on Sept. 14 for a public comment period and again on Sept. 15 to vote on final recommendations for program reduction or discontinuation.
The campus community will then be notified on Sept. 18 regarding the BOG’s decision of specific programs subject to reduction or discontinuation while the RIF process in those programs begins.
RIF and non-renewal notifications to faculty and staff will be released the week of Oct. 16.
This timeline will be voted on during the BOG meeting on May 17.
A website with more information about the timeline and processes will launch in mid-May, according to Taylor.
“This is not my problem. This is everyone's problem," Gee said. "And I don't want to have people come up to me and say, 'why are you doing that?' I want everyone to come up and say 'these are our ideas.'”