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West Virginia University's $45 million budget shortfall to force cuts

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A budget crisis at West Virginia University has prompted the school to propose scrapping its world language department. The proposal comes in response to an estimated $45 million budget shortfall. But in a news release, the university also said that student interest in the program is low and declining. Chris Schulz, with member station WVPB, has this report.

CHRIS SCHULZ, BYLINE: To save money, West Virginia University is looking to cut 32 majors and completely dissolve its world language department. But the language programs have been bringing in more than they spend, says Lisa DiBartolomeo.

LISA DIBARTOLOMEO: My department also really contributes deeply to the service mission of the university.

SCHULZ: DiBartolomeo is a professor and supervisor of the Russian studies program. She and others are questioning the review process and possible impact of the proposed cuts.

DIBARTOLOMEO: We teach a lot of students. And I don't think that the provost office and the administration are fully aware of the ramifications of closing the language program at a university like this.

SCHULZ: With no language program, the university is also considering dropping language requirements for all majors. DiBartolomeo says it's unthinkable a university of this size would not offer any language courses whatsoever.

DIBARTOLOMEO: If we are allegedly equipping our students to go out into the world and to have successful careers, and yet we're not educating them in means of communication with people from other countries and other backgrounds, we are failing them as a university.

SCHULZ: West Virginia University is the state's land grant university and its largest. In recent years, state government funding dropped, as did enrollment. Meanwhile, the university made investments, like construction and taking over hospitals. The proposed cuts were announced just days before the start of the fall semester as students returned to campus. Cortez Blount is a freshman from Washington, D.C. He's a business major and had his eye on a minor in languages.

CORTEZ BLOUNT: But now, since the languages are getting cut, it's kind of like I got to keep my decisions limited.

SCHULZ: Blount says if the cuts go through, he may be looking elsewhere for his degree.

BLOUNT: I'll give it my sophomore year, and if things isn't changing, then transferring might be an option.

SCHULZ: The programs and classes on the chopping block would continue through at least May of next year. The university's final decision on cuts are expected in September. Students like sophomore Gabby Cotton are dismayed by the proposals, but she doesn't feel like there's much she can do about it.

GABBY COTTON: There's a lot of, like, advertisements for cultural diversity and stuff, but they're kind of going back on that now, with that literally being cut out. I mean, I'm still going to go here. I mean, I'm a broke college student. I don't really have a lot of choices.

SCHULZ: Deans and faculty of all affected programs have until today to file an appeal with the university. Protests are planned on campus for Monday.

For NPR News, I'm Chris Schulz in Morgantown, W. Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chris Schulz
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