Who’s Listening?

In a rebuke to VTSU President Parwinder Grewal, VSCS Chancellor Sophie Zdatny, VSCS Chief Academic OfficerYasmine Ziesler, and the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees (excepting the student representative), faculty assemblies at NVU-Johnson, NVU-Lyndon, Vermont Tech and Castleton University delivered a vote of no confidence with a following press release on Feb. 17.

The board, the chancellor’s office, and our top administration have not responded adequately to the fallout from the decisions announced in February to transform libraries into essentially digital outposts, and downgrade athletics at the Johnson and Randolph campuses.

Public reaction to those plans has been overwhelmingly negative, which seems to have had no effect on those responsible for them. Board chairperson Representative Lynn Dickenson was quoted in a mychamplainvalley.com article as saying, “These changes are necessary as we work to build a truly hybrid institution that meets all our students where they are and in ways that work for them … President Grewal and his team, and Chancellor Zdatny and her team, have the full confidence and support of the Board of Trustees.”

That confidence is not shared by the faculty of the future VTSU. NVU-Johnson faculty assembly chair Janet Bennion noted, “They are not in tune with the student’s needs, not at all. So if this is the case, maybe we don’t need a board of trustees anymore. Maybe we don’t need a chancellor’s office.”

Maybe we don’t.

Here in its entirety is that vote of no confidence from the faculty assemblies:
“The faculty of Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College have voted in favor of a motion of no confidence in the Vermont State College Board of Trustees (excluding the student trustee), Chancellor Sophie Zdatny, Chief Academic Officer Yasmine Ziesler, and President Parwinder Grewal following the decisions surrounding athletics and our campus libraries.

Immediately following President Grewal’s announcement on February 7th, faculty, staff and students have repeatedly asked for data and analysis that would communicate the rationale for the decision that were made. In regards to the decision behind the library changes, what has been shared publicly is three years of library data that didn’t take into consideration the lack of access to our libraries and library resources during and a[er the COVID pandemic. When faculty leaders asked for data over the last decade, they were told “it does not exist” and that they could find it on their own. When they pressed further to understand the cost benefit analysis of the decision, faculty leadership was given nothing more than a proposed budget for Vermont State University’s (VTSU) inaugural year. This leads faculty to believe that these decisions were not in fact data driven, but instead were made as a way to reduce staffing or to follow national trends that are not backed with data that relates to our institutions.

All of the faculty understand the struggles VTSU has ahead of it: an ask from the legislature to reduce our budget by $5 million a year for the next five years, expectations from the legislature who is providing additional funding through transformation, and accountability to the tax-payers who are worried about how their tax dollars are being spent. Most of all, we understand that in order for public education to remain accessible in Vermont, Vermont State University must transform itself into a hybrid institution that increases access to all Vermonters.

What we are concerned with is the impact of these reckless decisions on an already weakened projected enrollment for VTSU’s inaugural year, the impact on our local communities, and most importantly, the impact on our students.

There has been a lack of leadership at the highest levels as well as a lack of transparency in decision making, and as a result there is a severe lack of trust. We need to better understand the identity of VTSU so that we can not only decide if we want to be a part of it, but so that we can help back the choices made by the institution. We need to see the larger picture in order to help make VTSU successful. Any decisions made moving forward need to be made transparently, driven by data and cost benefit analysis, and need to be communicated with wisdom and compassion.

We want Vermont State University to not only be successful but to change the face of Higher Education in the state of Vermont. However, we do not want to make unwarranted changes that directly hinder our students’ abilities to be successful in completing their degrees. But if these decisions, lack of data and rigorous analysis and shambolic communications are emblematic of the effectiveness of VTSU’s transformation efforts then it’s not just the students, staff and faculty who should be alarmed. Voters, taxpayers and legislators should take note.”

Students have a voice, too. If you don’t like these recent announcements, contact your local legislators and voice your dismay. Unlike VTSU leadership, the Office of the Chancellor and the VSCS Board of Trustees, maybe they will listen.