WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (WOWK) — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee on Wednesday seemed to joke about the university’s growing budget shortfall that has led to the controversial proposal to cut 32 majors and 7% of faculty and staff.

Gee’s comment was during the West Virginia Chamber’s 87th Annual Meeting and Business Summit, which he attended at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs and was hosted by Marshall University. The summit is a three-day event that is considered the “largest statewide business leaders event of the year.”

Two of the featured speakers included Gee and Marshall University President Brad Smith. Elizabeth Vitullo, Assistant Vice President of Economic Innovation for the Office of the President and the Assistant Dean for Strategic Initiatives at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, moderated the chat.

When Vitullo asked Gee about WVU’s land-grant mission, he started by saying, “This is the first time I’ve seen a friendly crowd in a while.”

Gee, who has said that he will step down in 2025 when his contract expires, later said he used to joke about building a wall around the state and having Ohio pay for it to keep people in West Virginia. This time, he said Smith would pay for it as he’s currently the richest person in West Virginia, according to Forbes.

Gee went on to say, “I always love asking Brad for money. He’s a lovely man. I could use about $45 million,” referring to the university’s budget shortfall that has led to the controversial plan to cut 12 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs, and 7% of the total faculty. The changes would lead to 169 potential faculty line reductions, according to the university.

Officials have said the university’s budget shortfall could balloon to $75 million in the next five years.

West Virginia University’s Board of Governors will have a final decision by mid-September. This decision will follow a planned meeting of the WVU Faculty Assembly which plans to vote on two resolutions that consist of a “no-confidence” vote for Gee as well as a freeze of the university’s “academic transformation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.