VSCS Board hears 3.5 hours of public comment


Students, faculty, staff and supporters of NVU have changed their Facebook profile pictures to this image to show their solidarity.

After a tidal wave of public outcry and postponement of the initial vote to close NVU-Johnson, NVU-Lyndon and VTC-Randolph, VSCS Chancellor Jeb Spaulding proposed his plan of closure at the Monday, April 20 meeting. After his presentation, the Board of Trustees and Spaulding listened to nearly 3.5 hours of condemnation and excoriation at the voices of 104 community members, two minutes at a time.

At the beginning of the meeting, Spaulding offered his remarks and proposal to the Board, which, as expected, included the recommendations to close the campuses of NVU-Johnson, NVU-Lyndon and VTC-Lyndon. “I’m truly sorry I had to make this recommendation to the Board of Trustees,” he said. “But if we don’t take action, the State Colleges System as an entity will become insolvent in the coming months. We’re going to need federal, state, or lender assistance.”

“Certainly,” he said, “we were facing major challenges before COVID-19.”

The meeting, which was held on Zoom and livestreamed on Youtube, was viewed by more than 400 people.

Spaulding pulled up a PowerPoint, which showed a projection of the fiscal state of the VSCS, given no change to its organizational structure. Then, he showed a projection given the closure of the three campuses.

The original data, labeled “Status Quo,” showed the VSCS being insolvent at the end of June.

Spaulding’s proposal lasted nearly an hour, after which the Board members were invited to comment. None of the trustees made judgement calls on whether they agreed with Spaulding.

After an hour where the Board went into executive session, they listened to comments. Faculty, staff, students and community members from every institution in the VSCS stepped up to explain why the Board should disagree with Spaulding’s plan.

The general sentiment of the commenters was clear, calling the process from announcement to vote “secretive,” “underhanded,” “rash” and “poor.”

Several spoke in support of NVU President Elaine Collins, and others called for Spaulding’s resignation.

“Thank you very much for ruining my college,” said a student.

When commenters asked specific questions about major and credit transference, housing and refunds, the Board members and VSCS personnel had no specific answers.

Commenters spoke about the reasons they loved their campuses and the communities, about their personal struggles and fears.

During the period of public comment, the Protest Vermont State College Closures page was commenting in real time. Community members coordinated comments, lauded each others’ presentations and noted the lack of attention of several of the Trustees.

One trustee, Linda Milne, sat facing away from the screen, and only looked up to roll her eyes or mutter something to her muted microphone. Commenters suggested she might be texting or knitting.

Other trustees left the frame entirely for upwards of five minutes, missing testimonies altogether.

After the period of public comment, which ended roughly at 8:00 p.m., Hindes made a few final remarks.

“We’re bound to make decisions that upset people,” he said. “The decision that’s in front of us right now is a whopper.”

By listening intently to the hours of public comment, he added, the Board could make an informed decision. “The decision we make is going to be a better one… because by my count, 104 people cared to step up to a virtual microphone and talk to us.”

Spaulding then spoke, validating “the pain, the frustration, the fear and the lack of confidence.”

“I have to take responsibility for that,” he added. “You do learn a lot when you hear the individual stories.”