Charleston Gazette-Mail. September 8, 2023.
Editorial: Gee, WVU board ignore discontent at own peril
The West Virginia University Faculty Senate sent a strong message Wednesday, passing a vote of “no confidence” in school President Gordon Gee by a wide margin, 797-100, after Gee’s administration recommended cutting more than 30 programs and nearly 170 faculty positions to stave off a $45 million budget deficit. The Faculty Senate also voted, 740-79, in favor of a resolution to stop the cuts.
So, what happens now? Probably, and unfortunately, not much.
As has been explained before, a vote of no confidence is a statement that the faculty members think Gee is unfit to serve as president. The Faculty Senate has no enforcement powers. That rests with the WVU Board of Governors, the majority of whom are appointees of Gov. Jim Justice and cronies of the governor, Gee or both. The board just gave the 79-year-old Gee an extension of his $800,000-a-year contract through 2025. The board certainly wasn’t planning on sending Gee packing, and Wednesday’s faculty vote appeared to have little effect, as the board immediately released a statement saying its members fully back Gee.
However, the board ignores discontent at its own peril. This is the second no-confidence vote against Gee in the past two years, and the faculty’s view of the president’s decision-making has clearly worsened.
A no-confidence vote against Gee and Provost Marianne Reed in late 2021, regarding the administration’s COVID-19 response and alleged lack of transparency around other issues, didn’t come close to passing (although it should be noted that considerable outside political pressure was brought to bear on faculty members during that vote). A second vote, passing by a ratio of nearly 8-to-1, shows a pretty drastic shift. Unhappy professors and unhappy students (protests from the student body over the cuts have been frequent) aren’t great recruiting tools for a university losing enrollment.
Some on the board have suggested that removing Gee right now wouldn’t help matters. The $45 million deficit is still there, and Gee is needed to help WVU through this difficult time.
OK, but what about holding someone accountable for their actions? After all, how did WVU wind up in this situation? Most have argued that it’s the result of unchecked spending based on Gee’s prediction nearly 10 years ago that WVU would jump in enrollment from around 33,000 to 40,000 by 2020. Instead, enrollment has dropped to 26,000 and is expected to fall further still while the West Virginia Legislature has continued to slash funds for the university.
Sure, Gee couldn’t have predicted that a pandemic would heavily alter operations from early 2020 through a good bit of 2022. But enrollment was on the decline for five years under Gee’s watch before COVID hit, and WVU never adjusted its course.
So, it’s a little disingenuous for Gee, the Board of Governors or state politicians to argue that WVU must suddenly “right-size” education to fit employer demands, chalking the budget shortage up to the frivolity and arrogance of higher education as a whole. It’s Gee’s arrogance and frivolity (not to mention his bizarre readiness to throw in the towel rather than even ask the state for more funding), along with the board’s refusal to listen to faculty and students, that put WVU here.
And both board and president are still wildly out of touch.
In Wednesday’s statement supporting Gee, Board of Governors Chairwoman Taunja Willis-Miller said, “The challenges we are facing right now are not unique to WVU.”
That might be true, in a technical sense, but the school’s challenges are, in fact, rather unique when compared to trends in higher education across the country, where applications and enrollment are soaring.
WVU is a flagship university in a state that continues to lose population, with a Legislature that continually undermines support for higher education. The result is a university in turmoil that no one in their right mind would want to attend, teach at or conduct research for until drastic changes — and not in the form of program and faculty cuts — are made.
The Intelligencer. September 12, 2023.
Editorial: Making W.Va. Family-Friendly
For many West Virginians, the Mountain State seems like the perfect place to start a family. But data shows that may not be the case, as WalletHub’s “2023’s Best and Worst States to Have a Baby” places West Virginia at 47th.
What makes the numbers even more alarming is that the state does well in one category. We have the fifth lowest hospital cesarean-delivery charges.
Otherwise, there is considerable room for improvement. Sure, we’re in middle territory being ranked 23rd for the cost of having a baby — but lower costs aren’t a surprise. On the other hand, WalletHub’s research puts West Virginia at 45th for health care, a dead-last 51st for baby-friendliness and 48th for family friendliness.
West Virginia is 49th in both pediatricians and family medicine physicians per capita, and child-care centers per capita.
This isn’t just a state issue, it’s a community issue. “Raising children in child- and family-friendly environments tends to be a high priority for prospective parents, and local authorities who wish to attract such residents ought to consider how their towns or cities can be adapted to be supportive of families raising young children,” said Sean E. Brotherson, professor at North Dakota State University. “Investments in a child-friendly environment typically would include the establishment of parks, playgrounds, and other spaces for children to play and families to recreate; support of child safety efforts such as clean water, clean air, and local safety codes and practices; and efforts to increase the availability and affordability of quality child care options in the community.
“Additionally, a robust early childhood system with options for child care, preschool, early intervention, parent education, and other supports shows positive results not just for child well-being but for the long-term development of the local workforce and community.”
On a positive note, many of the items Brotherson listed already are being done here in Wheeling. City Council has invested heavily in new playgrounds, upgrading nearly every park within municipal limits with new equipment. The city also is working with private entities to improve child care options, most notably through allocating American Rescue Plan funds for a planned renovation of Market Plaza that will allow for a new child care center in the downtown.
And of course, there’s Oglebay Park and Wheeling Park, two of the most family-focused parks that can be found anywhere in the nation.
Even with all that, there’s still plenty of work to do.
Lawmakers — both locally and at the state level — have much work to do to enhance our state’s quality of life particularly as it pertains to raising children. Talk is cheap on this issue; it takes real action, such as what’s been taking place in Wheeling, to make a difference. We keep saying we want to attract and retain young people so they can live and raise their families here. It is far past time we worked on giving them a reason to do so.
Herald-Dispatch. September 13, 2023.
Editorial: Schools should focus more on the third R, too
First, a few words from a renowned West Virginia mathematician, the late Katherine Johnson: “We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and go away, but there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics.”
And from one of the great scientists of all time, Galileo Galilei: “Nature is written in mathematical language.”
And from celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Somehow it’s okay for people to chuckle about not being good at math. Yet, if I said, ‘I never learned to read,’ they’d say I was an illiterate dolt.”
Knowledge of mathematics — or just plain arithmetic — is a basic life skill that adults need to plan a trip, borrow money or just pay the monthly household bills. A deeper understanding of numbers and how they interact is necessary to understand just about any career field a person might want to pursue. But math is getting left behind in public schools as deficits in students’ reading skills are being addressed.
According to the Associated Press, some teachers want to bring renewed emphasis to math education. They’re not talking about complex problems involving logarithms, bell curves or quadratic equations. They’re trying to bring elementary students up to speed on simple tasks involving basic concepts such as long division.
Just as some states, including West Virginia, have gone back to basics with the “science of reading” curriculum, there is a movement called “science of math.” While a full description of the “science of math” can lose the casual reader in educational jargon, one explanation used by the AP says it requires teachers “to give clear and precise instructions and introduce new concepts in small chunks while building on older concepts.” That sounds familiar to the grandparents and great-grandparents of today’s elementary school students.
The United States lags behind other high-income countries in math performance, and lately more students graduate from high school with deficits in basic math skills, according to the AP.
Last month the AP reported, “At many universities, engineering and biology majors are struggling to grasp fractions and exponents. More students are being placed into pre-college math, starting a semester or more behind for their majors, even if they get credit for the lower-level classes.”
The easy excuse is to blame losses related to school shutdowns during the pandemic, but “science of math” proponents say it goes beyond that. It goes to how students are taught basic concepts and how one concept leads to another.
Experts say math research hasn’t gotten as much funding or attention, especially beyond the elementary level. Meanwhile, the math instruction schools are currently using doesn’t work all that well. If what we’re doing isn’t living up to expectations, it’s time to try something different.