Solidarity Protests for West Virginia University Touches Down at UNC 

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Student holding up a protest sign.
Sarah Rich protesting at the Garden Theater.

Thursday morning at the University of Northern Colorado, the Garden Theater hosted a solidarity protest for the layoffs and major cuts happening at West Virginia University. This protest was organized by Sarah Rich, a UNC student and supporter of the WVU student union. 

“A threat to education somewhere is a threat to education everywhere,” Rich said. 

Gordon Gee, WVU president, proposed a financial plan to deal with the school’s $45 million budget deficit. This plan saw the cuts of 32 majors and $7 million in staff cuts. Reasons cited other than the large budget deficit included a 10% decline in enrollment since 2015 and majors not having enough enrollment to justify their existence. The cuts were controversial for multiple reasons, but primarily due to sweeping layoffs of full-time staff, and the cutting of art-related majors for Appalachian communities. 

“Appalachian voices have been silenced forever,” Rich said. “How are they supposed to get them a well-rounded education if they can’t access other cultures if they don’t have the ability to actually get a good education out of this university?” 

“If this can happen at one university, there’s no telling whether or not it would happen at others,” she said. “We don’t want this to set a dangerous precedence for faculty and program paths.” 

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Gee, when addressing issues involving cutting programs, defended his decision.  

“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 in a statement about his controversial decision. 

Rich’s protest saw other students holding signs in solidarity with West Virginia University offering messages of support for the students and staff with demands for the upper administration.  

“As has been seen countless times with education as a whole, it’s kind of been under attack in this country,” Rich said. “For a long time, we’ve seen a ton of examples in Florida, especially but also in states like Texas. And now in West Virginia, we can see that there have been major cuts to what is considered education, funding and other areas such as that.” 

This protest comes after UNC announced they were going to cut multiple programs, primarily the language programs, in the spring semester of 2022. 

“Earlier this semester, we made the difficult decision to close three of our language programs – French, German, and European Languages and Cultures – due to longstanding issues with single-digit enrollments,” UNC President Andy Feinstein said in an April press release about the closing majors. 

“One of the main things to achieve is to spread awareness. I really want people to sign the petition. That’s one of the biggest ways we’ll be able to show the board, and the people of West Virginia, that people care. It’ll also just help boost morale for the union in West Virginia,” Rich said. 

Final recommendations from the WVU Board of Governors took place yesterday and potential letters of staff release will be sent out in mid-October.

If you would like to read more about WVU and support Rich’s efforts, sign the petition here.

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