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Vermont State Colleges Trustees Hear Public Comments On Controversial Consolidation Plan

Vermont State Colleges trustees meet on April 20th to discuss consolidation plan
Zoom screenshot
Vermont State Colleges trustees meet on April 20th to discuss consolidation plan

On Friday, the chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges system announced a plan to close and consolidate campuses. The system’s Board of Trustees initially planned to vote on the plan Monday.  But the idea has been met with considerable criticism and the board instead took hours of scathing public comment.
Northern Vermont University was formed in 2018 by consolidating Johnson State College and Lyndon State College.  The plan released Friday by Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding would further consolidate Northern Vermont University into Castleton University.  It would also close the Vermont Technical College’s Randolph Center campus and consolidate its operations at the Williston campus.

Over the weekend there was a flood of criticism and protests, and the college system faculty and unions voted No Confidence in Chancellor Spaulding.  Trustees deferred their vote for a week but met Monday to hear from Spaulding about the plan and take public comment.
Spaulding told the board the restructuring is necessary because the system faces a deficit between $7 and $10 million dollars.  “The reason for making this recommendation is because the entire system is at risk.  If we don’t take action the state colleges system as a group, as an entity, will become insolvent in the coming months.”

Students, educators, and community leaders were among the 104 people who commented. Most were critical of the plan.
"I’m Adrianna Eldredge and I’m a senior at Northern Vermont University-Johnson. Moving these campuses will deny access to higher education for hundreds of college students who cannot move to Castleton and create a disproportionate geographical barrier to the northern tier of Vermont. Furthermore you will be destroying the economies of these communities whether you accept that or not.

“Linda Olson. I just want to say the level of disrespect shown to faculty, staff and students of the VSC by the chancellor and the executive committee of the board has been stunning. Faculty and staff were notified on Friday that this proposal would mean 500 community members would lose their jobs.  It was delivered via a Power Point presentation and the chancellor did not even have the courtesy to show up and deliver this message. I know our campuses are struggling. But I also know the chancellor is capitalizing on COVID-19 to push through an agenda he has wanted for a long time.”

“My name is Marian Bicchetti. I’m the mother of Hailey Bicchetti. I see that you’re all listening but are you hearing what’s being said because by some of your faces you’re not.”
Spaulding:  “I guess I’m listening right now.”
Marian Bicchetti:  “Are you? Like what majors are being moved?”
Spaulding:  “That has not been worked out yet.”
Marian Bicchetti:  “How can you drop a bomb like this and not have an answer to such a simple question?”

Vermont State Senators met late Monday afternoon. The chairs of the education committees and the pro tem had met earlier in the morning with trustees, and others watched initial proceedings of the trustees’ meeting. The senators also questioned the sudden urgency.  Democrat Bobby Starr thinks outside analysts should review the situation and report to the legislature.  “The Trustees have had 5 years, maybe 6 or 7 years, to figure their situation out and you can’t just throw money at it. You’ve got to figure out the problem and fix the problem.”

Republican Senator Joe Benning said every slide in the Chancellor’s presentation packet reflects past problems.  “I’m really feeling as if the trustees have already made the decision and they’re just playing it out for the purpose of public relations.”

Republican Governor Phil Scott, an ex-officio member of the board, was asked about the plan before the trustees met on Monday. He noted a number of small colleges are on the brink.  “If we just inject money into any institution is that necessarily going to mean they’re going to be able to survive in the long run? Because they had financial challenges previous to this.”

The Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees announced Tuesday morning that it has scheduled an emergency meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday to continue discussion on the plan.

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