Landscape Architecture program remains at WVU

Recently, West Virginia came uncomfortably close to losing its only accredited landscape architect program. As part of an effort to reduce its $45 million debt, West Virginia University (WVU) administrators announced programs and degrees that were recommended be eliminated. Both the bachelor’s and master’s landscape architecture programs landed on the “to be cut” list, while the Plant and Soil Sciences division staff would be cut from 21 professionals to 10. Departments would have the opportunity to appeal, but weren’t given much time to prepare. They had a week to declare an intention to appeal and several weeks to marshal a defense.

At WVNLA, we heard about the August 11 announcement soon after it was released. After speaking with Michael Biafore, our workforce development committee chairman and a licensed Professional Landscape Architect with a degree from WVU, we decided, with board approval, to write a letter of protest to the review committee.

In addition to speaking of the great need for landscape architects by West Virginia engineering, design, and landscape firms, we spoke to the public projects that have been made viable with the expertise provided by WVU’s landscape architects.

Excerpts from the letter include:

“I’m writing on behalf of the West Virginia Nursery & Landscape Association to express strong disapproval, on behalf of our members, for the proposal to cut the landscape architecture programs and reduce the staff of Plant and Soil Sciences at WVU. As you know, WVNLA has provided significant support and financial assistance through the years to these programs, largely because we support green industry careers and professionalism throughout the state.

“WVNLA’s board members voted to fund these projects because they believe these programs provide vital experiences and education for students in the landscape architecture and horticulture programs. These graduates go on to create designs which landscape and engineering companies use to create effective, safe and attractive spaces throughout West Virginia and beyond. These projects also provide employment opportunities.

“The loss of West Virginia’s only accredited landscape architecture program will inevitably lead to West Virginia students leaving the state to study landscape architecture elsewhere. These students are not likely to return to West Virginia, to the detriment of in-state engineering, architecture and landscape companies who would employ them.  As the state’s flagship, land grant university, WVU should be supporting a program vital to the state’s growth, not driving those students away.”

The letter went out, but the public awareness campaign was just starting. We released the salient points of protest letter to media outlets throughout the state and region, many of whom picked them up and ran them. Several WVNLA members were enlisted to write letters to their local newspapers. Thank you, Mike Osborne (Beckley – Aspen Corporation); Mark Springer (Huntington – Lavalette Landscaping), Garrett Balog (Charleston – WVU Horticulture?? student and WVNLA scholarship winner) and Michael Biafore (Morgantown – Biafore Landscape Development).

We asked our members to sign a letter a letter of protest, and also enlisted members of the West Virginia Golf Course Supervisor’s Association to sign. We posted updates on social media, namely Facebook (if you haven’t followed us on Facebook, we hope you will now!) Michael Biafore spoke eloquently of the programs’ importance on WAJR radio program “Talk of the Town.”

“We commit and donate countless hours to community involvement and community development across the state,” Michael said. “The landscape architecture department, over the last three years, has touched 30 communities in the state to help with community development, design, and their needs.”

Michael said on the broadcast said he believes the WVU administration may not fully grasp the impact the landscape architect program has off campus. He believes the value added to local communities by these planning and management services is lost on the decision-makers at WVU.

“We need to put the brakes on this thing in the near future,” Biafore said. “So, there can be more dialog, more discussion, and analysis on how these programs affect not only the WVU budget but also the communities and the state.”

Dr. Sven Verlinden of Plant & Soil Science made an appeal to reverse the Academic Transformation team’s recommendation to remove more than half of its staff. The presentation to the Program Review Appeal Committee did prompt committee members to reduce the cuts to 10 instead of 11, but that department will be challenged to meet curriculum and research needs.

On Sept. 5, Dr. Peter Butler presented an appeal to retain the landscape architecture bachelor’s program. To address concerns about the low student-faculty-ration, he presented a plan to discontinue the landscape architecture master’s program, which would allow for delivery of the bachelors program with fewer faculty.

The proposal was met with approval by the appeals board members, who voted unanimously to accept it. “The School made a strong case for retaining the BSLA major by demonstrating it could achieve efficiencies while addressing the needs of landscape architecture students who do not have a similar degree program to pursue here at the University,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed.

Congratulations to Peter and his staff in the landscape architecture department who salvaged a program that we consider critical to West Virginia. Not many of the appeals met with success, so this retention is particularly significant.