Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty divided over decision to move programs to Colorado
A decision to move in-person programs at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) from Montpelier to Colorado is dividing the college’s faculty, months after the decision was announced.
VCFA is a low-residency graduate school, meaning students work independently with faculty for much of the academic year, then convene for two-week sessions twice a year: Once in the summer, once in the winter. Those sessions were traditionally held at the school’s Montpelier campus. In June, college President Leslie Ward announced the school’s summer session would relocate to Colorado College in Colorado Springs beginning in 2023, while winter sessions would be held virtually. The college also plans to sell off most of its Montpelier buildings.
On Sept. 26, a group of faculty from the college’s visual arts and film programs submitted a letter of “no-confidence” in President Ward to the college’s board of trustees. The group of about two dozen faculty also submitted a complaint to the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), the organization that accredits VCFA and other New England higher education institutions. The faculty argue that the administration and board’s decision violated the school’s governance policy, because faculty members weren’t consulted.
“When you make a decision of that magnitude without your faculty, for us, it's a pretty clear violation of that agreement,” said Michael Minelli, a faculty member in VCFA’s visual art program who lives in Los Angeles.
In their letter, Minelli and other faculty say Ward “has failed to meet her responsibilities of shared governance and ethical stewardship.” Their complaint to the NECHE asks that the college’s board stop their plan to sell campus buildings, release details of VCFA’s contract with Colorado College — along with other financial documents faculty say they’ve been denied access to — and create a task force to explore alternative options for the college’s future.
“When you make a decision of that magnitude without your faculty, for us, it's a pretty clear violation of that agreement.”Michael Minelli, visual arts faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts
The NECHE must now determine whether the complaint meets its criteria for an investigation. According to the organization’s complaint protocol, the administration would then be given a chance to respond, and the NECHE could either close the complaint or determine that further changes are needed at VCFA.
But VCFA faculty are not united in their opposition to the administration’s decision to relocate its programs. Shortly after Minelli and other faculty publicized their letter and complaint, a separate group of 42 faculty members signed a letter saying they have “full confidence” in President Ward. The letter states faculty were surprised by the June announcement, but find Ward’s leadership “future-oriented and trustworthy.” The letter goes on to argue that “rehashing the decision-making process is a regressive act” which could threaten VCFA’s “abundant future.”
The college’s board of trustees responded to concerned faculty this week, reiterating that the board’s decision to move to Colorado was unanimous. The board also defended its communication of the decision with faculty, and expressed “unanimous and unequivocal confidence” in President Ward. Board members said they’ll address other issues raised by faculty at a meeting on Oct. 14 and 15.
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The out-of-state move of VCFA programs comes several years after a spate of small college closures in Vermont. The College of St. Joseph, Southern Vermont College and Green Mountain College all closed in 2019. Marlboro College reached an agreement to transfer students and faculty to Emerson College in Boston in 2020 and closed its Vermont campus.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of VCFA faculty that signed on to a letter expressing full confidence in President Leslie Ward. 42 faculty members signed the document, not 36.
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