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Vermont State University president resigns, pausing library and athletics changes

Inaugural VSU president Parwinder Grewal joins the show alongside other guests to discuss the changes coming to the newly unified university's library and athletics departments.
Vermont State University
Inaugural Vermont State University President Parwinder Grewal has resigned.

Vermont State University President Parwinder Grewal has resigned, and the controversial cost-cutting measures he championed for libraries and athletic programs will be paused, according to a press release from the Vermont State Colleges System on Friday.

Grewal held the job for less than a year and was tasked with stewarding Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College toward their official unified launch as Vermont State University on July 1. He resigned "for personal reasons," according to the colleges' statement.

Mike Smith, former secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, will serve as interim president for the next six months starting next week. Smith has been asked to pause Grewal's proposals to make libraries all-digital and downgrade some athletic programs.

"The Board of Trustees and Chancellor Zdatny have asked Interim President Smith to pause implementation of the proposed initiatives around athletics and the libraries, pending development of a comprehensive set of recommendations for continued transformation work in the coming weeks," the college system's press release said. "More information will be shared when that work is complete."

Smith has previously stepped in to assist during transition periods at several Vermont institutions, including Burlington College and the state's Enhanced 911 Board.

"I am pretty darn excited about the opportunity here to build a national rural education model," Smith said in an interview Friday. "I think there's incredible upside to what can be done."

"I am pretty darn excited about the opportunity here to build a national rural education model. I think there's incredible upside to what can be done."
Mike Smith, interim Vermont State University president

Vermont State University's faculty and staff unions issued a collective statement Friday calling for leadership changes beyond the president's office.

"We agree that the pause on the proposed changes to the libraries and athletics is a step in the right direction, but this is just a pause," the unions wrote. "To this point, decisions have been made that have not been based on data that is reliable. We are concerned that issues with leadership extend beyond President Grewal. We want to see a change in leadership at the Chancellor's Office and Board, a reduction in administrative bloat, and the legislature rescind their requirement to cut $5 million each year. We are still facing cuts that could be devastating to VTSU."

Grewal's resignation highlights the turmoil within the Vermont State Colleges System, said Steve Howard, director of the Vermont State Employees' Association, which represents about 200 workers at the three schools.

“There’s no question that he really lacked the confidence of the faculty, the staff, the alumni, the community, but the problem is that we have a demand by the political leadership for $25 million in cuts that are just unrealistic," Howard said.

Officials from the three-college system told lawmakers recently that they were facing a $25 million deficit which had to be made up somewhere.

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Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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