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Plan to combine 4 state colleges under 1 name met with skepticism in Castleton

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 5:00 PM EDT
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CASTLETON, Vt. (WCAX) - Students, alumni and staff sounded off Friday on a Vermont State Colleges System plan to unite four schools under one name.

The plan is to combine Castleton University, Northern Vermont University-Johnson and Lyndon, and Vermont Technical College into Vermont State University.

But in a town hall meeting Friday, that plan was met with skepticism by many from Castleton University.

At times, the meeting became very heated with many audience members saying their questions were not being answered.

Representatives from the Vermont State Colleges System held the town hall meeting at Castleton University’s Fine Arts Center to discuss their plans for the future of the troubled state college system.

When NVU provost Nolan Atkins finished his presentation and opened the floor to questions, one faculty member questioned whether others in the audience even understood the buzzwords used, like NCE. NCE means new combined entity-- that’s the plan in the works that could fully merge the state colleges under one banner, possibly Vermont State University.

But audience members complained the process has lacked transparency and easy to understand language.

“I want to be understanding and I want to work with you guys so hardcore because we clearly are not going to get anywhere with anger, but I simply cannot understand it and that makes me very worried,” said Julie Leppo, a junior at Castleton University.

During the town hall, many students expressed their distrust in the board. One demanded, “My question for you is if we are going to have another opportunity like this to ask questions and if at that point we’re actually going to get some answers?”

Faculty members are also voicing concerns over whether a merger would lead to job cuts, especially since the VSCS has already said there will be only one of three presidents after the consolidation.

“I would love to see faculty and staff also part of that vision and a mission statement because we are all very nervous that we are going to lose our jobs,” said Maya Kraus, a faculty member at Castleton University.

Few at Friday’s meeting seemed in favor of the move. But a Castleton University admissions counselor and alum urged others to consider the good of all of the state colleges.

“I think we all belong together and I know it’s scary, it’s really scary. I’m always going to be a Spartan, I’m always going to hold that, but I think we need to look past some stuff, do some research,” said Amanda Ley, a Castleton University admissions counselor and 2018 graduate.

Chancellor Sophie Zdatny says the state colleges have been on an unsustainable financial track for many years and the individual institutions must work together to survive. She says these conversations are the beginning to keep all schools alive.

“We’ve been doing a lot of communicating, but students have come and gone and it’s been COVID and they’re busy and they have other things, so I think probably just more communication,” Zdatny said.

The next listening meeting is scheduled for Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m. That meeting is virtual and people can sign up to speak. Click here for all the details.

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