Cuts to academic departments pursued by West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee have put him at odds with students and faculty members. Gee has responded by describing the cuts affecting a relatively small fraction of students.
“Fewer than 2% of students are impacted whatsoever by the decisions we’re making,” Gee said in an interview published Aug. 25 by The Daily Athenaeum, WVU’s student newspaper.
That’s one way to calculate the impact, but it’s not the only one.
April Kaull, WVU’s news director, told PolitiFact West Virginia that the “fewer than 2%” figure stemmed from the initial stage of the process that led to the academic cuts.
Under the initial proposal, the provost’s office recommended that 33 undergraduate and graduate programs be discontinued. Collectively, those 33 programs had 434 majors in August, when the initial proposal was made.
Dividing the 434 majors by the total student enrollment of 24,366 produced a figure of 1.7%. That’s a little less than 2%.
After appeals, the university backed off some of those cuts. So, the current cuts would affect 316 undergraduate and graduate majors, or 1.3% of students.
However, this is a limited framing of the cuts’ impact, because it excludes double majors, minors, or students of entirely different majors taking courses in the departments on the chopping block.
“The problem students have had with this statement is reflected in (Gee’s use of the word) ‘whatsoever,’” Frankie Tack, the WVU Faculty Senate chair, told PolitiFact West Virginia. “Many students take courses in other majors and disciplines and will be affected even though their home program will not be discontinued.”
The university did not provide figures that could be used to make this alternate calculation, but it’s likely not a trivial number, especially because some of the biggest targets in the cuts — the university’s foreign language offerings — are precisely the types of courses that nonmajors might be tempted to take.
Kaull, the university spokesperson, told PolitiFact West Virginia that only primary majors were counted “because they are the only ones that generate tuition revenue for the university,” which was the aim of the budgeting exercise in question. “Neither double majors nor minors generate tuition revenue,” she said.
In remarks to the Faculty Senate on Sept. 11, Gee said, “Our university will still offer more than 300 majors, as well as study-abroad trips, cultural events, internships and community service programs that open the world to our students.”
Gee said that “fewer than 2% of students are impacted whatsoever by the decisions we are making.”
This number comes from a credible calculation, but it’s limited and convenient for downplaying the cuts’ reach.
Less than 2% of West Virginia University’s students are primary majors whose departments would be affected by the cuts. However, this count excludes double majors, minors, or students taking classes in the affected departments. This is a potentially sizable population that Gee’s sweeping “whatsoever” characterization wouldn’t cover.
We rate the statement Mostly False