VSU staff, students share concerns at Statehouse

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 7:38 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 21, 2023 at 12:20 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Over the last several years, the Vermont State College System has made dramatic changes to its name and campuses in an effort to remake itself as a financially stable institution. But after the recent decision to turn all libraries digital and make athletic program changes, students and staff say they’ve had enough.

The Vermont State University’s decision earlier this month to change its athletic programming and turn all libraries digital has drawn protests from staff and students across the system. On Tuesday, they brought their message to the Statehouse.

“I was very shocked and devastated because I am going into my senior year. But more for the people that are coming into their freshman years, sophomore years that have probably had to change their plans,” said Rome Watts, a senior on the Johnson campus. He understands the school system is trying to find ways to keep all campuses open but says cutting back on sports and changing the libraries is not the solution. “It kind of puts you in a mode where you’re in defense mode as a student because you feel like the people that hear you don’t really care for you.”

As part of the reorganization, students at the johnson campus will compete in the USCAA instead of the NCAA conference and the Randolph campus will move to club sports.

“It really hurts to think that next year, knowing that my teammates will leave because they don’t want to attend this school any longer because it is not NCAA. I don’t plan on staying here if I don’t have the NCAA,” said Brianna Belisle, a member of the Northern Vermont - Johnson basketball team.

Earlier this month, incoming Vermont State University president Parwinder Grewal apologized in a message to students and faculty for how the information was shared. The Vermont State University senior leadership voted “to be bold and embrace an all-new digital library” and didn’t vote to close the libraries, he wrote. He also noted that the university has a budgeted $22.6 million loss this year.

“We voted to work with each campus to transform the library space - where there will be a credentialed librarian - with study spaces for individuals and groups, shared technology areas, and places for community building,” Grewal wrote. “Higher education is changing. And digital libraries are the way of the future.”

Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, says the VSCS is making cuts to make sure they can sustain themselves and that the state in turn has a five-year plan to help fund the schools. “We are supporting them with more and more money every year, but as bridge money to get to a more sustainable future,” she said. Lanpher says this plan has already been approved and as of now no changes will be made. How the school decides to hold up its end of the bargain is its choice. “I think this is the change they are working on. They’re working with the student body, the increase of certain programs, taking a look at where it’s not needed, and that’s the hard work that they do.”

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