Lyndon students, faculty and alumni offer their thoughts on the upcoming unification

Editor’s Note: Emma is an Electronic Journalism Arts student at Lyndon State College. This article is part of a collaboration with Basement Medicine to better represent our unified community.

In the fall of 2016, the Vermont State College Board of Trustees officially voted to merge Lyndon State College and Johnson State College into one unified institution to be called Northern Vermont University. As we approach July 2018, which is when the unification will officially take place, there are still mixed feelings among students and faculty, and they go far beyond the name of the college or what the logo will be.

One discussion being had is that of a unified general education curriculum. Both schools received a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation in August of 2017 for this work. With this grant, a group of faculty from both campuses are able to start putting together a curriculum.

Some faculty aren’t completely on board with the idea of a unified general curriculum. Dr. Brandon Stroup of the Criminal Justice department says, “You can’t say that we’re going to have more choices with only one curriculum . . . that’s fewer choices.” He believes it’s a disadvantage to the students to not have a diverse choice of classes to take, and a potential problem for departments if they were to have to decide what courses to keep and what to get rid of.

“Someone may have an expertise in [a particular area] but they’re not allowed to teach that anymore because we’ve eliminated that because we want a unified curriculum,” Stroup says. He believes each campus should be able to create their own curriculum and let the students decide what classes they want to take and where they want to take them, and the credits should transfer over to the other college.

But some students in the community see this unified curriculum a little differently. Dana Mitchell, a former student representative of the Unification Advisory Committee and a current First Year Experience Peer Leader, says this is something that should happen slowly and not be thrown together. “If they’re going to make one big education program, I wouldn’t see it happening for years,” she says. She thinks that to merge two campus’s general education programs should take some time, and shouldn’t come into play for many years.

Mitchell says from her experience at the UAC and her peer leading training that students won’t be forced to take classes at the other campus if they don’t want to; it will be a choice. She also mentioned that the college is expected to allow degree completion based on the catalog you come in with as a student.

Alex Dewitt, a Graphic Design and Photography student, thinks the idea of one general education program isn’t all that bad: “I think it makes sense from an administrative standpoint, so there’s one common rule book.”

Dewitt thinks if both campuses had the same general education plan, they could offer the same classes at both campuses but also offer classes only at Lyndon or only at Johnson. “You could come here to have one of David Johnston’s classes on Planet of the Apes or go to Johnson to take another professor’s class on Underwater Basket Weaving or something like that,” he says. Dewitt believes that would add diversity to the colleges’ curriculum and make everyone happy.

The unification will allow students to take classes at both campuses during a single semester. Faculty and students have discussed the pros and cons of shuttling students to and from campuses. Both Stroup and Dewitt believe that before this becomes set in stone, there needs to be a trial period.

Dewitt says, “We definitely should have the ability to try out the things we want to put in place. Whether we are afforded those is a whole other question.” He discusses the telepresence room that both campuses have, and how he and many of his peers and professors haven’t been able to experience it, and that is how some of these classes could work. Dewitt thinks the idea is something that could be great for both schools but does have reservations especially towards major-specific classes.

“I would be very concerned if some of the key classes for my major were only available at Johnson,” says Dewitt. “And I feel the people at Johnson would feel the same way if one of their key programs were over here.”

Stroup feels that people who are in favor of shuttling students and faculty to campuses need to simply take a drive to the other campus. “You need to drive to Johnson in December, after a snowstorm,” he says. “There and back, then come back and look at that idea.”

He believes that after a trial period you would look at the student’s grades, attendance and overall performance in the classes and thinks you would see they aren’t doing as well as the kids in the class who are based at the school.

A concern many alumni have is feeling a loss of identity. They fear “Lyndon” is going to disappear. Mitchell sat in on a public forum during the 2016 Family Alumni Weekend and said there were a lot of broken hearts and upset feelings experienced. She said their reaction was very different than it was for the students currently enrolled in the school.

“For us, we were in this transition,” says Mitchell. “But for them, they hear that something is happening to their beloved home of four years and something that they contribute money to.” The feeling for them just wasn’t the same.

Steve Cormier, a 1982 graduate of the Electronic Journalism Arts department, which then was called Communication of Arts and Sciences, says for most alumni it’s really about the name change more than anything.

“I agree with unification — I don’t think there was any way around it,” says Cormier. “I think what the alumni don’t like is the name. They have a real issue with the name.” He says the idea of the unification was necessary for the colleges, and the alumni are aware of that but still aren’t satisfied with completely changing the name of the college.

Liz Mainville, a 2016 graduate of the Exercise Science program, sees the brighter side to the unification. “I think it’s going to be like any other college or university where there’s multiple locations,” she says. “I think it makes it more common as a Vermont State College to have multiple campuses.”

Mainville thinks that having separate athletic programs and mascots will keep Lyndon from disappearing. She also sees how there will be more funding for both colleges. “I definitely don’t think Lyndon will lose itself, especially with combining such a little aspect of the college itself,” she says.

Students who are currently enrolled at Lyndon have a different perspective. Lyndon State senior Josh Caredeo thinks it won’t be much of a problem. “I think over time it’ll change,” he says. “As far as I know, before this school became a state college it was a teacher’s college . . . but people recognize it now as a state college.”

Caredeo thinks once we unify, people will get used to the name NVU and it won’t just be Lyndon anymore: “Going forward for the school, I think it’ll be good as far as getting funding and bringing in more students. If they look for a job four years after they start, they’ll be more marketable because you’re graduating from a university and not a college.” He believes this is a benefit for Lyndon and Johnson going forward.

Lyndon State has several nationally recognized and accredited degree programs. For the students in those programs, there is a fear that after graduation when they look for a job it may be harder because their diploma will say NVU instead of Lyndon State College.

For some programs, like Electronic Journalism Arts and Atmospheric Sciences, having that prestigious Lyndon degree is something these students hold near and dear to them. Mitchell says that Dr. Nolan Atkins’ response was, “You make your resume what you make your resume . . . You have to make this college experience what you make it.”

Mitchell says that “while there is more heartache for kids in these programs, it’s still the same institution with the same programs, and that Lyndon will always be Lyndon.”

Cormier looks at this concern from another angle: that of Lyndon graduates who are in the industry already. “There’s so many Lyndon people in the business . . . even if you graduated in the next five to ten years, [your diploma is] still going to have Lyndon on it.” He says these people are going to be familiar with the name and know where these students graduated from and what kind of background they have.

Cormier says he’s not sure how the school will market these nationally known programs and fears it will bring confusion if it is not done right. “I think that whatever the branding message is going to be needs to be really solid and straight forward,” he says.