UVM cites decline in humanities enrollment for faculty cuts

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The University of Vermont has a problem; the number of students majoring in the liberal arts is dropping.

In 2010, 5,239 students were getting their bachelor's degrees from the College of Arts and Sciences. Today, that's down to 4,330-- an 18 percent decrease over nine years.

The school has trimmed teachers. They've shed 16 full-time professors, going from 343 to 327. That's about 5 percent.

But the university says it's still not enough to make up for decreasing demand.

Our Christina Guessferd spoke with UVM administrators, professors and students about the layoffs and the role of liberal arts.

"I don't think less students are interested. It's just that they're just using the made-up budget crisis they created as leverage to take money out of those programs," said Cobalt Tolbert, a philosophy major.

The "they" Tolbert is talking about is the UVM administration and the "programs" are those within the College of Arts and Sciences.

Last Tuesday, a group of UVM students and faculty delivered a 950-signature petition to the president's office, demanding the administration save the liberal arts programs at the school.

"The liberal arts aren't supported in the university," said Sarah Alexander, the president of United Academics, the UVM professors union.

It's all in response to budget cuts. The college is laying off two professors in the Classics and Romance Language department. It's also turning 10 full-time professors into part-time employees.

"The concern that folks have had about us taking away from the humanities maybe gets confused to think somehow we don't value the humanities or don't want the humanities to thrive. I think it's just because of this shift in student interest," said Bill Falls, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

And Falls says that shift in interest isn't new. It became apparent after the recession in 2010. Since then, undergraduate majors in the College of Arts and Sciences are down 16 percent and those majoring in the humanities is down 44 percent.

Falls says less demand from students means less need for teachers.

Alexander says it's the university that's responsible for the decrease in enrollment.

"They deliberately took the class from a very large number in 2010 and made it smaller. We don't see that as justification for cutting jobs and cutting classes," Alexander said.

She argues those cuts should be coming from elsewhere in the university's budget.

"Reduce the number of administrators or reduce administrative pay, which is significantly higher than the pay of lecturers and the pay of people being laid off," Alexander said.

Students like Tolbert say these changes don't just affect the students and faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences.

"A lot of these classes are taken by kids who aren't necessarily in those majors, but they're from STEM," Tolbert said.

"I take a lot of music classes, I'm a drummer. And a lot of those classes got affected, as well, and it's just really unfortunate," student William Wuttke said.

Meanwhile, Alexander and Falls agree rebuilding interest in liberal arts with incoming students is a priority.