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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

WVU gives students what they want: Good grades in easy classes

West Virginia University is cutting majors and firing professors to fulfill the utilitarian vision of its president, E. Gordon Gee, writes Michael Powell in The Atlantic. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, says Gee, public universities should work with state industries to enable students to qualify for local jobs.

Gordon Gee is president of West Virginia University

Gee "spoke of investing in medical, nursing, cybersecurity, and business degrees to serve a working-class state with an aging population plagued by disease and drug abuse," writes Powell. He pledged to "slash money-draining majors and cut required courses that run up costs for students."

Among the departments hit hard are foreign languages, public health and community planning. WVU will "stop granting graduate degrees in environmental-health sciences, education administration, and math."

Math, now merged with statistics and data science, is under pressure to offer easier classes, writes Oliver Whang in The New Yorker. It's what the customers want.

“Students pass their classes, and everyone’s happy, and so on,” Casian Pantea, a WVU math professor. In theory, greater student satisfaction leads to higher enrollment. Untenured instructors handle most of the undergraduate "math service" courses. “Now we have math courses that are basically sixth-grade math,” Pantea said. “Pre-algebra.”

Higher grades “drive first-year student retention and are a primary factor in students’ ability to complete their degrees in a timely fashion,” (provost Maryanne) Reed explained, adding, “The key point here is that we need to focus on what our students and their future employers want and need.”

“W.V.U. students come in with straight A’s knowing nothing,” said John Goldwasser, who teaches honors math. "Last year, the administration required Goldwasser to accept any student with at least a C-minus average into his honors course," writes Whang. The veteran professor "compared this approach to high school, where students can be promoted on a social basis rather than an academic one."

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