Digging into the proposed academic program cuts at Vermont State University
Vermont State University's administration introduced a proposal a week ago to reduce costs and streamline the university's operations.
The proposal includes cutting 10 academic programs in a phase-out period that begins next fall, eliminating up to 33 full-time faculty positions, consolidating 13 academic programs, and moving 11 others to new campus locations.
Interim President Mike Smith joined Vermont Edition to discuss the proposal.
“We can't cling to the status quo," Smith said. "Because especially in the Northeast, where your customer base, your student base is declining, so you have to sort of adjust to that sort of situation. You know, 'build it and they will come,' in my experience, never works.”
The five-campus Vermont State University system ended the last fiscal year with a $22 million deficit on a budget of $134 million. Smith said the university promised the state Legislature to end that deficit over a five-year period.
A 22-member working group decided how programs should be judged, Smith said, including enrollment, fiscal sustainability, and whether the program is a critical need of the university and the state as a whole. Smith said he made the final decisions to avoid putting faculty in the position of recommending the end of another faculty member's program.
No current student will be affected by the changes, he said. A total of 77 students are now enrolled in programs that will be phased out.
"If we eliminate a degree program, what we will do is teach that student out so that they won't be impacted," Smith said.
The university anticipates saving money with faculty reductions. Smith said a buyout package would be announced later Monday. He hoped that no layoffs would be required.
Smith said he was also willing to look at the university's administrative costs.
There's also a master facility study to examine how the university uses its buildings. What's not on the table now, Smith said, is closing any campus. "There have been some rumors," Smith said. "That is not in my plans."
What about agriculture?
The proposal includes an end to the agriculture, forestry and landscape contracting programs — but maybe not forever.
Smith said the current agriculture program is not attracting students, and a newly-hired executive director will help the university rethink the program.
"I think a complete reevaluation and a complete start over is what's needed in those programs," Smith said.
Along similar lines, Smith said it's time for a new beginning for the school psychology program, a graduate-level program also on the list for cuts.
Smith said the program was so under-enrolled that the university couldn't even field classes for this new semester. He thinks that people who might have enrolled weren't able to attend classes at the time they were offered. He promised the university would continue to invest in mental health.
Vermont State University is collecting feedback on the proposal until Oct. 27.
Broadcast at noon Monday, Oct. 9, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.