West Virginia University to Cut Languages, Creative Programs

02 September 2023

School leaders at West Virginia University recently proposed cutting almost 10 percent of the university's study programs and over 100 educators because of a $45 million budget deficit.

Included in the cuts were study programs, known as majors, in world languages, art history, jazz performance, creative writing, and degrees in math and education.

The languages include Chinese, French, German, Russian and Spanish. In addition, professors leading programs in linguistics and TESOL could be cut.

West Virginia University students lead a protest against cuts to programs in world languages, creative writing and more amid a $45 million budget deficit outside Stewart Hall in Morgantown, W.Va., on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Leah Willingham)
West Virginia University students lead a protest against cuts to programs in world languages, creative writing and more amid a $45 million budget deficit outside Stewart Hall in Morgantown, W.Va., on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Leah Willingham)

‘Emotions are high'

The university's Office of the Provost considered "several key metrics" to reduce or eliminate majors. The metrics included: the number of students interested in the majors, the ratio of students to professors in the program, the amount of money the programs bring to the school, and the future research plans each program had.

WVU released its plan in early August. The school permitted the affected programs to appeal the university's decision. The cuts resulted in a large protest on August 21.

The provost, one of the university's top leaders, is Maryanne Reed. At a meeting during the protests, she called the time "incredibly stressful," and noted, "emotions are very high right now."

The university's final plan will be announced in the middle of September.

Appeal results

The World Languages department appealed WVU's proposal on August 25, asking the university to reconsider part of its plan.

Lisa Di Bartolomeo is one of the professors in the department. She also attended the university as a student.

Before the appeal, she told VOA that cutting foreign language instruction would hurt students from West Virginia when they look for jobs. She said it would hurt their career earnings and hurt elementary and high school-aged children in West Virginia who depend on language teachers trained at WVU.

"The best and the brightest students don't see a future for themselves in West Virginia."

On August 29, WVU said it planned to follow through with much of its proposal. It is likely to cut all language majors but continue some teaching in both Spanish and Chinese. The university said it is important to continue with those languages because Spanish is in "high demand" and Chinese is a "critical need."

Reed said the university will remove a foreign language study requirement for students seeking Bachelor of Arts degrees. The university said it will work to support students who are interested in "immersive (language) experiences" through study abroad programs.

Poor planning?

Those who run the school are concerned about the state's decreasing population and the decreasing number of college-aged students. West Virginia is the only state in the U.S. with a population that is lower today than it was in 1950.

WVU has about 27,000 students. About 25,000 are at its main campus in Morgantown. That number is 10 percent lower than it was in 2015. That means the school takes in less money from students and taxpayers.

The population loss is one reason for the university's financial problems. New student housing and new academic buildings meant for a growing number of students are empty today.

E. Gordon Gee, the university president, said the cuts are needed so WVU can be "a competitive university on the national stage." He said the school is not taking its reduction proposal lightly. University leaders say study programs and professors are not all that are being cut.

International students affected

Among the 27,000 students at WVU, there are about 1,000 international students. Some of them are studying in the programs that might be eliminated. All of them will be permitted to finish their degrees. But no new students will come into the eliminated programs. That process is called a "teach out."

VOA Learning English spoke with two international students who are worried about their study programs: Jose Ramirez is a music and higher education graduate student from Colombia. Winda Melati is a higher education graduate student from Indonesia.

Ramirez also is a graduate of WVU's world languages program: he studied German.

He said the plan to take away most language teaching is "sad," and he wondered if the university no longer sees language learning as important.

Ramirez said:

"And it's also showing... like kind of the mentality of a lot of English speakers is that they don't need to learn another language because everybody (else) will learn English."

Melati said she is concerned for herself and other students who are in the U.S. on F-1, or student visas. Some, she noted, planned to stay at WVU to continue teaching or studying after completing their degrees. Now they may have to change their plans because of the cuts.

Melati and Ramirez both expressed concern about the programs and the value of their degrees if they are cut. Melati asked: "How can I be proud of (my work) if I graduate from a program that is no longer there?"

Ramirez said he feels lucky that he was able to study at WVU, but he feels sad that future students will not get the same instruction he did. They worry international students will not come to WVU after learning of the cuts.

But, Henry Oliver of the university's global affairs office believes the university will still appeal to international students.

"WVU has a really long-standing history and appeal for international students. And to be honest, I don't expect that to change."

He noted that popular WVU programs are safe. He listed most science, technology, engineering, math and business study programs. "These programs are still things that remain very strong at WVU and will continue to be strong," Oliver said.

A compromise ahead?

Many who are protesting the reductions say they would have liked to see the university do more to talk with professors, students, employees and West Virginians before announcing the cuts.

Both Di Bartolomeo and Ramirez are afraid there was not enough input from students, parents and graduates.

And Ramirez said, even with the appeal process, he believes most decisions have already been made.

"I would like to be wrong, but I think that everything is ... they are just seeing the numbers and the numbers are not making it."

I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Faith Pirlo.

Dan Friedell reported this story for Learning English with additional reporting from the Associated Press.


Words in This Story

linguistics –n. the study of how languages work

metric –n. a tool for measuring something, especially something's value

ratio –n. the relationship that exists between two values which can be expressed as two numbers

stressful –adj. causing worry or fear

immersive –adj. a method involving being completely surrounded by a language in an effort to learn it

eliminated—adj. having been removed or ended

graduate –adj. having already graduated from undergraduate schooling