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Students, faculty and staff of Vermont State University urge board to reconsider cuts

A sign surrounded by stone reads "Vermont State University, Williston Campus" with an arrow pointing to "Admissions"
April McCullum
Vermont Public File
A sign at Vermont State University's Castleton Campus in Castleton.

The board of the Vermont State Colleges said Monday it continues to back a plan to cut and consolidate some programs and reduce faculty at Vermont State University after hearing from faculty and students who urged it to reconsider, including student government groups who have voted no-confidence in the board and administration.

The plan calls for discontinuing 11 programs, consolidating 16 others, and eliminating 20-33 full-time faculty positions out of the current 208. It's estimated to save $2.1 to $3.3 million after three years from the faculty reductions. Faculty have been offered buyouts.

"For the first time in recent history, Vermont State University has a smart and actionable plan to right-size course offerings and restructure administrative operations to reflect the needs of a rural, unified university with multiple campus settings," the board said in a statement. "These changes align Vermont State University with peers and set the entire Vermont State Colleges System on a path where financial stability is within reach by Fiscal Year 2027."

Vermont State University is comprised of the merged campuses of the former Castleton University, Northern Vermont University in Johnson and Lyndon, and Vermont Technical College in Randolph. It welcomed its first class this year. The Vermont State Colleges System has struggled financially for years.

On Monday, the board took public comment during a Zoom meeting, during which students and faculty said they were not consulted in what is best for the school.

"We believe your decision in the recent optimization vote has failed our institutions by eliminating positions within departments that are not only currently understaffed but also heavily overworked," said Zack Durr, treasurer of the Castleton Student Government Association. "You have turned these positions simply into points of data and salaries on a page rather than real people who have improved students' lives every day."

David Mook, who teaches part-time in Castleton, said the Vermont State University transformation has been mismanaged, including what he said was "huge failure" of leadership to meaningfully engage with students, faculty, staff, alumni and communities around the institutions. The inaugural president who drew fierce opposition when he proposed all-digital libraries stepped down in April less than three months before the Vermont State University's official launch. He was replaced by interim president Michael Smith, who worked for years in a number of state government positions, most recently as the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, Smith released the cost-savings plan currently supported by the board.

"It's left us with instead of an engaged student body, we have an engaged student body," Mook said. "We have dedicated faculty and staff that are so demoralized it's sad for me to come in and talk to them." Alumni are frustrated and citizens are concerned, said Mook, who suggested adding faculty, staff and more students to the board.

The board said in a statement Monday that it's time to implement the plans and focus on "growing high-demand programs such as nursing, plumbing and electrical apprenticeships, mental health counseling, teaching, advanced manufacturing, aviation and more."

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