Amid the controversy over deep budget cuts at West Virginia University, the WVU Faculty Senate in September pursued a vote of no confidence in President E. Gordon Gee.
Outlining the faculty’s concerns with Gee’s actions, the no-confidence resolution said Gee had “mismanaged the university’s finances—while also refusing to accept responsibility for the current financial situation of the university.”
The resolution added that Gee had promised to expand WVU’s enrollment to at least 40,000 by 2020, “to justify expansion and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that would increase WVU’s debt load by 55%. Yet during his presidency, student enrollments have steadily decreased.”
Along with several other PolitiFact West Virginia fact-checks of assertions made during the budget debate, we will look here at the Faculty Senate’s statement that Gee’s projects have increased “WVU’s debt load by 55%.”
We found that the 55% figure is exaggerated.
WVU has taken on additional debt during Gee’s second tenure as president, which began in 2014. According to data on WVU’s debt compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education, WVU’s total debt rose from $645 million in 2013, the year before his current presidential tenure began, to almost $963 million in 2022.
That’s an increase of 49.3%, which is fairly close to 55%.
However, not all of that increase relates to Gee’s actions. A significant portion was set in motion before he began his current tenure as president.
April Kaull, WVU’s executive communications director, provided PolitiFact with a breakdown of the 25 line items comprising the university’s debt load.
The data shows the university’s overall debt load is about $877 million today. But only about $300 million of that total stems from Gee-initiated projects. The remaining $577 million consists of debts incurred before his current presidency or Gee-era refinancing of debts incurred before his tenure.
“This equates to about 34% of the currently outstanding principal on university-issued debt,” Kaull said.
Frankie Tack, the WVU Faculty Senate chair and a clinical assistant professor of counseling and learning sciences, told PolitiFact West Virginia that the 55% figure is “inaccurate.”
“Institutional debt at this level,” Tack said, “is highly complex.”
The WVU faculty Senate resolution said Gee’s university projects have increased “WVU’s debt load by 55%.”
The actual rise attributable to Gee is about 34%, because much of the increase that has occurred during his presidency stems from debt taken on before he took office.
That’s still a significant increase, but not as large as the resolution said.
We rate the statement Mostly False.