West Virginia University will restructure another large administrative unit as part of ongoing review and transformation efforts.
Cris DeBord, vice president of Talent and Culture, has announced his plan to retire later this year and that position will be eliminated moving forward. Further, the entire unit will be reorganized to align and better serve the University community for the future.
It is the latest in a series of decisions over the past nearly 10 years which has resulted in the reduction of more than 500 non-academic positions to streamline operations and maximize efficiencies.
President Gordon Gee addressed recent criticisms that the University has not addressed cost-saving opportunities during the WVU Board of Governors special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 22.
“I want to reinforce that transformation is not a new concept for this University. In my very first speech to the University in 2014, I talked about the need to be more efficient and streamlined,” Gee said. “In 2016, I clearly stated we would need to overhaul everything — including academics. And in 2018, I said land-grant universities could win back the people’s favor by acting as the ‘people’s universities’ again.”
And while the primary focus has shifted since 2020 to Academic Transformation, efforts in other areas continues. Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop shared an update on an in-depth unit review, like the Academic Support Unit review undertaken earlier this year.
“The assessment for Strategic Initiatives is aimed at ensuring units are organized for success and remain focused on supporting WVU’s Transformation and serving the needs of students, faculty and staff, as well as the broader University,” Alsop said.
The Strategic Initiatives assessment process will be outlined in more detail at the BOG’s upcoming September meeting. Other areas such as the Division of Student Life are also undergoing a review.
Meanwhile, 19 of the 25 units identified for formal review under the Academic Transformation initiative have submitted an intent to appeal the preliminary recommendations announced Aug. 11. Outcomes from the appeal process can include upholding the preliminary recommendation or replacing it with a different recommendation. The BOG will vote on the final recommendations Sept. 15.
“We know this is a difficult process. We feel for those people who may be affected. We realize this is not easy and none of this was entered into lightly. The Board did direct the administration to address Academic Transformation so that we could become an even stronger university,” Chair Taunja Willis-Miller said. “The Board believes we must do this work to remain competitive and relevant.”
Approximately 98% of students and nearly 93% of faculty are unaffected by the proposed recommendations
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Maryanne Reed shared steps her office will take to support those faculty who may be displaced.
“We are doing everything we can to support those individuals by providing as much notice as possible, severance packages, mental health resources and helping with job placement,” Reed said. “We are currently negotiating an agreement with a outplacement provider who will be able to offer a variety of job placement resources for those who may need them.”
Reed also presented a separate review timeline for WVU Extension, Potomac State College and WVU Tech to begin in 2024.
During its Aug. 22 meeting, BOG members also approved adding certain Clinical-Track and Librarian-Track faculty to the Severance Package developed around Academic Transformation.
Members also endorsed the proposed reorganization of WVU Extension and the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design into a single unit beginning July 1, 2024.
Additionally, the Board received a report detailing the University’s debt service and debt portfolio. This resource, along with others including housing and the FY 24 financial plan, are available at transformation.wvu.edu.
About two dozen people attended the BOG meeting and several signed up to address members regarding the preliminary recommendations as part of the academic program portfolio review.
Full statement from WVU Board of Governors Chair Taunja Willis-Miller:
“The Board of Governors appreciates the comments shared today, as well as those we have received over the past few weeks.
“We know this is a difficult process. We feel for those people who may be affected. We realize this is not easy and none of this was entered into lightly.
“You should know that the Board did direct the administration to address Academic Transformation so that we could become an even stronger university. Then, this spring, we accelerated the timeline so that we could get through the process and move forward as a university.
“The Board believes we must do this work to remain competitive and relevant. Concerns regarding the preliminary recommendations can be addressed in the appeal process. And also, the Board will be meeting on Sept. 14 for the primary purpose of hearing comments before we make a decision on Academic Transformation on Sept. 15.
“We will continue to receive your feedback and comments and will take all into consideration.”
The next regular BOG meeting is scheduled for Sept. 15.