Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees votes in favor of Johnson-Lyndon unification proposal

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Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees votes in favor of Johnson-Lyndon unification proposal

VSC Board of Trustees

VSC Board of Trustees

Sam Hartley

VSC Board of Trustees

Sam Hartley

Sam Hartley

VSC Board of Trustees

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On Sept. 29, the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees voted to approve the proposed unification of Johnson and Lyndon State College. The approved proposal indicates that JSC and LSC will have a unified leadership team by July 1, 2017 and become a unified institution by July 1, 2018.

Three days prior, VSC Chancellor Jeb Spaulding had made public his report on the details of unification, including important benchmarks for expected cost savings and enrollment increases.

The chancellor’s report projects savings of $195,000 by 2017 through “system consolidations,” $650,000 by 2018 through the unification of the leadership team, and for base spending to be lowered by approximately $2 million by 2020.

The report also assumes that the pace of enrollment will increase over the coming years, with a 1 percent increase in 2018 and 2 percent increase in both 2019 and 2020. If these enrollment increases materialize, it would mean an additional gain of $2 million in revenue by 2020.

The board of trustees held a public meeting the day before the vote to hear Spaulding present his unification report, and to discuss the proposal. Comments from the public — which were notably more fraught with worry and concern than the discussion of the trustees — were allowed at the end of the meeting.

“One email I got said unification reminds me of Vermont Health Connect,” Spaulding remarked at the discussion, causing the Lake Morey Resort conference room to fill with laughter. “But I want to say one thing that’s different with that — very different. That had a federally imposed specific date and deadline.



Yes, we need to be nimble and I think we’re giving ourselves enough time to get this done, to enroll students for July 2018. Is it possible that we might need to push a pause button at sometime? It’s unlikely, but we can if we need to.”

Trustee Jerome Diamond commended Spaulding for the work put into the report by the chancellor’s office. “Jeb, the report that you and your staff put together is a great due diligence document,” Diamond said. “I think you’ve answered for that purpose every question that this board raised and asked you to do the report back to us on beautifully. It’s certainly all there for us to make a decision on.”

Diamond also reflected on the board’s recent hiring of JSC President Elaine Collins, who will now become the president of the new unified institution.

“I was chair of the search committee. A national search done a little over a year and a half ago started with over 40 applicants nationwide. We interviewed 12. We brought four to campus. We chose two to do a final interview. It was our unanimous recommendation to the board, and the board’s unanimous decision, to hire Dr. Collins,” said Diamond.

“What many of you may not realize, because it wasn’t very relevant in that decision, was there was a very important piece of her experience that will become critical to her new role,” he continued. “When she was in North Adams, Massachusetts, she was part of the leadership to change the name of the school, change the mission of the school, and to rebrand and remarket it entirely into a successful operation and save the school. It was going down the tubes. And she did it. That piece of her background — quite frankly — I never dreamed would have any particular relevance to the role that we were selecting, but will indeed have relevance to the new role that we are asking her to take on.”

Student Trustee Morgan Easton said she was glad the VSC was taking a proactive approach to resolve JSC and LSC’s fiscal woes: “I am a student at Vermont Technical College right now. I’m in a program that had to be taken off at VTC, the green buildings program. In the belt-tightening process, my program was one that got cut. So I see this as a really good move on the state colleges’ part, as a student that has been directly affected by the belt-tightening measures that are being taken. I’m really glad there’s other options being looked at.”

Tim Jerman brought up his concerns about monetary support from the state legislature and how unification will help prevent more drastic action like the closure of an entire campus.

“I think that if we’re going to support Vermont and support regions of Vermont that are outside of Chittenden County that are not doing as well as we are right now, we have to support decisions like this,” said Jerman. “We have to get legislative support more than we have in the past and we absolutely have to do everything we can to keep all of our campuses going. I’ve never heard anything else from any other member of the board. I wanted to say that just to put anything to bed about this being the first step toward a more draconian action. No. We’re doing this to succeed.”

Concerns about the legislature were also on the mind of former LSC President Peggy Williams.
“What do we have to do,” asked williams, “Walk off the cliff? If we go off the cliff we don’t have any students, so that’s not a solution. I see this as a walk off the cliff into azure blue waters, not rocky banks. I have no better solution. I think we have to do this. My hope is that the legislature will realize that you have, in effect, gone to the edge of the cliff and said, ‘this is what we have to do, and you need to come now and heed us. If it’s giving $2,000,000 to help, I don’t know. But we’ve been around this for a long time. Vermont needs publicly supported state colleges.”

Several current faculty members of LSC showed up to express their deep concern to the trustees about what unification will mean for the future of the college.

“We at Lyndon are upset at not being heard or listened to in this unification process,” said Jason Shafer, an associate professor and chair of the LSC atmospheric sciences department. “The unification process has not incorporated the talents and institutional knowledge of its faculty, staff or alumni. Consequently, we feel as though Lyndon is being treated as a marginalized unequal in this process thus far.”

Meaghan Meachem, an associate professor and chair of the LSC electronic journalism arts department, thought that Spaulding’s report dramatically understimated the marketing costs for a new institution: “In looking at the outline of where the budget will go, $750,000 for marketing doesn’t nearly seem like enough. That probably is enough to change the signs, and maybe the decals on vehicles. But as I’ve said to board members in the past, marketing the Vermont State Colleges is done very poorly by the board. $750,000 doesn’t feel like enough to make that work.”

One of the most emotional moments of the meeting came when LSC’s Barclay Tucker — a professor in the visual arts department and chair of the faculty assembly — said that, while he understood the necessity of unification, he felt as though he was watching Lyndon die.

“I have been at Lyndon for 15 years now,” said Tucker. “I have worked and toiled for hours, days, years. Often at the sacrifice of my own family, sometimes my health. I love Lyndon. I think the important thing to understand is that what a lot of us are going to be experiencing is that Lyndon is dead — as I know it, as I love it. That’s what I feel, a great loss and a great pain. When it was said this summer that Nolan is the last president of Lyndon state college… that hurt.”

JSC’s Sharon Twigg, who currently serves as the interim academic dean and teaches as an associate professor in the writing and literature department, summed up the general mood of the JSC community about unification: approval and a willingness to get started, but with concerns about how realistic some of the expectations of the chancellor’s report really are.

“I’m really strongly in support of unification,” Twigg said. “I feel like I’ve waited long enough. I’ve been waiting since the first or second year of the beginning of my tenure at Johnson, watching cuts being made, watching classes get canceled, watching students leave because of weakening programs. Every year I’d think to myself and ask other people, ‘what are we going to do about this?’ We have done a lot of belt tightening, we’ve tried to do some restructuring, people have been working harder. We can’t hard-work our way out of this. We have to have a new structure and a new vision in order to make sure that both campuses can really thrive again.

“I really agree with what Meaghan had to say about concerns about how the unification is going to be funded,” she continued. “I don’t know if it’s enough money. I also am concerned that it doesn’t exist yet. Is the legislature going to be able to provide what we hope they can provide? We don’t know.”