Legislature needs to be careful with cuts
West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee sounded something like the typical bureaucrat in part of what he said in his State of the University speech last week.
Legislators who are insisting on spending cuts from many in state government should be careful not to cripple higher education, Gee warned.
But then he departed from the script used so faithfully by many in state government. He did not threaten to cut popular programs if lawmakers do not give WVU every dime it seeks.
You know the drill. You have heard it from many state officials during the past few years, as it became apparent the government is not living within its means. To be certain we knew they meant business, the bureaucrats followed up their threats with real cuts — closed State Police barracks, layoffs of foresters, reductions in state aid to local schools and more.
There was none of that from Gee last week.
He made his case by talking about the good things WVU and other institutions of higher learning can do for all Mountain State residents. He noted the university already has tightened its belt ($30 million in state funding cuts in three years).
And WVU is prepared to deal with even more cuts in light of Gov. Jim Justice’s call for 4.4 percent more in higher education funding reductions, Gee stressed.
Good for him — and good for the WVU community. Gee could have put up an excellent defense of the university by claiming more state cuts would force it to close specific programs or increase tuition dramatically. His choice to eschew that strategy was both refreshing and the right thing to do.
Gee is absolutely right about two things: First, WVU is extremely valuable to the state in three ways: It is West Virginia’s pre-eminent institution of higher learning, it is a nationally recognized leader in job-creating research and it provides many critical services, including health care.
So yes, legislators should be careful about cuts too deep in higher education.
But not every aspect of every state-funded college and university is vital to West Virginia’s future. Justice and legislators should take the objective, comprehensive look needed to learn the best way to economize on higher education. Unfortunately, we simply cannot afford all we fund today.