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Vermont State University leaders defend plan for all-digital libraries, changes in athletic programs

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 VSU president Parwinder Grewal joins the show alongside other guests to discuss changes to the university's library and athletics departments.

Administration officials at Vermont State University are standing by their plan to make libraries at their five campuses all digital and to downgrade some of their athletic teams into different conferences. Since the initial announcement last week, students, staff and faculty have been organizing protests and sit-ins at some of the university's five campuses. Administration officials have also been attending campus forums, with more ahead.

All the changes come against the backdrop of a massive consolidation process. Three schools — Castleton University, Vermont Technical College, and Northern Vermont University — will officially come together as Vermont State University by July 1 of this year.

Parwinder Grewal, Vermont State University's new president, and Maurice Ouiment, the vice president of admissions, joined Vermont Edition Monday to discuss and defend the changes. They were joined by Elizabeth Bergman, a librarian at NVU Lyndon, and Lily Mulin, an NVU Johnson senior and the captain of the women's soccer team.

President Grewal cited declining circulation as one of the factors behind the VSU's shift to all-digital libraries.

Circulation "has declined substantially from about 20,000 volumes being taken out a few years ago, to about 6,000 in just three or four years," he said. "And this aligns with our national trends as well."

Grewal added that the cost of maintaining the physical materials in the VSU libraries was also a factor in the decision. The original announcement about the decision noted that the university has budgeted a $22.6 million loss this year.

"Our university cannot afford to continue to maintain those unused materials," Grewal said. "But if something out of those is needed, yes, we will provide those and get that to the faculty member or student as needed."

Grewal stressed that the library spaces will not close. Instead, they'll be modified into community spaces.

Dozens of people stand on stairs inside a library holding books
Connor Cyrus
Vermont Public
Castleton students held a protest and library sit-in on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023 to contest Vermont State University's plan to make libraries all-digital and to convert library spaces into community spaces.

At a protest and library sit-in on Monday morning, students spoke out against the changes. "I know that a lot of students learn in different ways, and I think taking away physical resources from students isn't the right choice," said Castleton student Tamara Sabokta.

"The library was a huge part of me coming here," said another Castleton student, Nicole Pelton. "And so to hear about them making all these changes, taking so much away from students, is really heartbreaking. So I'm going to do everything I can to stop that."

Athletics changes planned at Johnson, Randolph campuses

Changes are also coming to some athletic teams. The Johnson campus will transition from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA), and teams at Vermont Tech's Randolph campus will leave the USCAA and transition to club-only sports.

Lily Mulin, a senior and the NVU Johnson women's soccer captain, said the transition affects her as both an athlete as well as a student.

"These changes are leaving me, as well as the general student body of athletes, very scared and confused," she shared.

"We obviously have a lot of questions about what's going on this seemed to come out of the blue, and not a lot of our questions are being answered," she said. "There isn't a lot of transparency about what's going on. A lot of underclassmen are already in the transfer portal, and once this decision is set in stone, I imagine that many, many more will be in the transfer portal."

Maurice Ouimet, vice president of admissions, said the administration is committed to keeping students where they are — and ensuring they're informed of the changes ahead.

"We want to make sure everybody understood the difference between the NCAA level and the USCAA level," he said. "We want to make sure students are comfortable, and know, and make fully-informed decisions. As I said, we want you to stay … but we want you to understand what it means moving from the NCAA to the USCAA."

Mulin said she nonetheless faces her final year of athletic eligibility with some big questions to work through. (Due to COVID, she still has one more year of eligibility ahead of her.) She worries the changes will affect her team's ability to field a full squad.

"Moving forward, for me, this means that in the fall, I'm not going to have a team to play on."

Broadcast live on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.