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UVM aims to slash liberal arts programs amid $8.6 million budget deficit

Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 4:09 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Facing a growing budget deficit exacerbated by the pandemic, The University of Vermont Wednesday presented a plan to eliminate more than two dozen majors, minors, and master’s programs from its College of Arts and Sciences.

“I feel that our ability to deliver a quality liberal arts education is being threatened,” said Julie Roberts, president of United Academics, the union representing UVM faculty.

To address UVM’s $8.6 million budget deficit, the College of Arts and Sciences proposed cutting 12 of the college’s majors, 11 minors, and four master’s degree programs. According to the document sent to faculty, programs on the chopping block include geology, religion, and some foreign language majors.

“This is really hard,” said William Falls, the dean of the college. He says the programs have seen declining student enrollment with each graduating on average fewer than five students per year. There are around 120 students enrolled in the programs now. They will be able to finish their degree before the programs are phased out.

Some staff could be reassigned to other departments, but there’s no guarantee. “There is a possibility some staff and faculty will lose their jobs,” Falls said.

Roberts says they found out about the potential cuts Wednesday and were not involved in the decision-making process. “The amount of unilateral decision making by this administration is unprecedented,” she said.

Caribbean and Latin American Studies has one of the lowest enrollment numbers--only two students per year. Sophie Aronson, a first-year Caribbean and Latin American Studies major, says she was heartbroken to hear the program may be cut. “I think it’s a really special major because it allows students a lot of creativity to study different things,” she said. “Like, I am locked into one geographical region but I’m not locked into one topic.”

Aronson says she chose UVM over the other universities she got accepted into specifically because they offer this major. She can still finish out her degree if she wants to, but she’s still questioning her decision to attend UVM in light of the proposed cuts. When asked if she’s considering leaving UVM, she said it crossed her mind. “But I’m going to try to make it work,” Aronson said.

Another program on the chopping block is geology. Professor Paul Bierman believes losing this program could also mean UVM losing prospective students and money. “I think it’s going to immediately make it harder for us to earn research dollars,” he said. “I have a million-dollar proposal sitting on my desk that’s probably a week away from submission. I don’t know what the impacts of our department being terminated are going to have on our ability to get that funding.”

Bierman is also worried it could leave the entire state without trained environmentalists. “Other faculty have worked on the landslides in Waterbury, working on groundwater contamination in southern Vermont in Rutland. So, the geological expertise is necessary for the training of the students of the next generation, for environmental management inside the state. If we don’t train those professionals, they’re not going to be here in the state of Vermont,” Bierman said.

Students and faculty plan to speak with administrators about the proposed cuts soon. The plan has to be reviewed by the faculty senate before it’s approved.

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