Vt. State Colleges chancellor withdraws proposal to close 3 campuses

Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 11:35 AM EDT
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After vocal opposition from many across the state, the chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System Wednesday said he is withdrawing his proposal to close three of the systems' campuses.

Chancellor Jeb Spaulding had recommended shutting down Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center, as well as Northern Vermont University's Johnson and Lyndon campuses as part of a plan to overcome a potential $10 million shortfall in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

At an emergency meeting Tuesday night the board of trustees heard from various community members-- many opposed to the closures-- about the proposal, but Spaulding said he stood by his recommendation.

Wednesday, he changed his mind. "It was the reaction of thousands of emails, people weighing in with our board of trustees and with the chancellor, and reaction from elected leaders in the state who felt it was motivated by real factors but too devastating in too many ways," Spaulding said.

"We're so thankful that cooler heads prevailed." said Dan Daley, the NVU Lyndon's faculty assembly chair.

It was a feeling of victory for many Wednesday but now, more than ever, VSC supporters say solutions are needed.

"Moving forward, we're going to have a lot of work to do with the Legislature," said Tyrone Shaw, NVU Johnson's faculty assembly chair.

Both Daley and Shaw say stakeholders need more say in the decision making for the campuses. They see it as an opportunity to look at state education funding as a whole. "It's time to look at it more holistically and think of this in terms of K-16," Shaw said.

Governor Phil Scott on Wednesday said he agrees some changes can be made to help the Vermont State College system. "We spend a billion in aid for K-12 and when you add in higher education and early care and learning. There's enough money in the system, we just have to figure out how to deliver it in a much better way," he said.

Senate President Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County, said in a statement that the decision was an important first step toward developing a transition plan that respects all the stakeholders. "It allows for a clearheaded analysis of what a healthy public higher education system in Vermont could look like, and how we can integrate broader state interests into that analysis," he said.

The faculty leaders are thankful for community members and students who flooded state leaders and the VSC board member's phones and emails about the proposal.

Patrick Wickstrom, and NVU sophmore, started a petition online about a week ago calling to secure the future of the Vermont State Colleges. It's now racked up over 40,000 signatures. "It was like pouring gasoline over an already burning fire," Wickstrom said.

He believes allowing students a seat at the table will lead to success for the future of the Vermont State Colleges. "A combined community effort of the union leaders, student representation, the VSC formal offices and legislators -- we can come up with a formal long-term plan that can not only sustain the system but grow the system," Wickstrom said.

Faculty and students agree a new vision is necessary. The faculty assembly of NVU says their vote of no confidence in Spaulding last weekend still stands and that the damage has already been done in those VSC communities.