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West Virginia University faculty express symbolic no confidence in President E. Gordon Gee

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia University faculty approved a symbolic motion on Wednesday expressing no confidence in President E. Gordon Gee as the university addresses a $45 million budget shortfall.

The university is struggling with the financial toll of dwindling enrollment, revenue lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and an increasing debt load for new building projects. The budget shortfall is projected to grow as high as $75 million in five years.

The faculty resolution on Gee said what it called his administration's poor planning, faulty decision making and financial mismanagement has significantly contributed to the crisis. It called into question Gee’s “ability to responsibly, honestly and effectively lead, facilitate and participate in decision making.”

“I must say that if I had done all of those things, I’d probably vote no confidence myself,” Gee told the faculty prior to the vote.

He later said that “we will proceed forward with what we are doing right now. And I think that we’ll strengthen our institution.”

The university’s faculty assembly later passed a second motion calling for WVU to freeze ongoing academic program and faculty cuts.

The votes, which serve as a symbolic gesture to express the faculty's collective thoughts, were held a month after the university Board of Governors gave Gee a one-year contract extension. Gee announced a week later that he plans to step down after his contract expires in June 2025.

In 2021, a no confidence vote by faculty against Gee and Provost Maryanne Reed failed.

In a statement after the votes, the university Board of Governors said it “unequivocally supports the leadership of President Gee and the strategic repositioning of WVU and rejects the multiple examples of misinformation that informed these resolutions.

“The University is transforming to better reflect the needs of today, and we must continue to act boldly,” it continued. "President Gee has shown time and again he is not afraid to do the difficult work required.”

The university is proposing cutting dozens of programs offered on its Morgantown campus — including its entire department of world languages, literatures and linguistics, along with graduate and doctoral degrees in math, music, English and more. The Board of Governors will conduct a final vote on the cuts next week.

While the university recommended eliminating 7% of the total faculty in Morgantown, critics said that estimate approached 16%.

Hundreds of students held a protest last month while the American Federation of Teachers called the cuts “draconian and catastrophic.”

Gee has served two stints as WVU’s president. After taking over in 2014, his promise to increase enrollment to 40,000 students by 2020 never materialized. Instead, the student population has dropped 10% since 2015, while on-campus expansion continued.

WVU has spent millions of dollars on construction projects in recent years, including a $100 million new home for the university’s business school, a $35 million renovation of a 70-year-old classroom building and $41 million for two phases of upgrades to the football team’s building.

“President Gee’s tenure has been marred by a series of questionable decisions that have eroded trust and confidence within our university community,” social work instructor Tina Faber told the faculty meeting in Morgantown prior to the no confidence vote. “The success of any academic institution relies heavily on open dialogue and collaboration, which seemed to have been neglected under President Gee’s leadership.

“Through the protests, petitions and this assembly, we send a clear message: We demand transparency, accountability and a renewed commitment to the values that make our institution great."