The Issues

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Myths v. Facts about the Liberal Arts Funding Crisis at the University of Vermont

Myth: UVM student interest in the liberal arts is in sharp decline.

Facts:

  • Students choosing Arts and Sciences majors declined 13% between 2010 and 2020: from 5,175 to 4,483.
  • But since 2010, UVM also reduced by 22% the number of students it accepts each year into the College of Arts and Sciences. The reduction in majors thus reflects not just fluctuating student interest but also administrative design.
  • Arts and Sciences remains by far the college serving the most majors: 4,483 compared with 1,457 majors in Engineering, Mathematics, and Statistics; 1,404 majors in Agriculture and Life Sciences; 1,001 majors in Nursing and Health Sciences; 885 majors in the Grossman School of Business; 772 majors in the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources; and 700 majors in Education and Social Work.
  • All of UVM’s colleges and schools rely on the College of Arts and Sciences for their major requirements.
  • Students pursuing bachelor of science degrees in the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources take advanced as well as introductory Biology, Chemistry, and Geology courses. o Education majors depend on Arts and Sciences for their content concentration courses.

Sources: UVM Office of Institutional Research Source Books 2010 and 2020; UVM Catalogue 2020

Myth: The College of Arts and Sciences is an unaffordable drain on UVM resources.

Facts:

  • Of a total of $200 million in net (after financial aid) undergraduate tuition revenue generated in the past five years, Arts and Sciences contributed the most. Of UVM’s seven undergraduate colleges, Arts and Sciences contributed 44% of net undergraduate tuition revenue, or $88 million.
  • But while Arts and Sciences has generated $88 million in net undergraduate tuition revenue for UVM over five years, it has received only $54 million to fund its faculty, staff, programs, and courses.
  • Far from being a “drain” on the rest of the campus, Arts and Sciences subsidizes—contributing $34 million over five years—other academic and administrative units at UVM.
  • Since 2016, undergraduate tuition revenue generated by UVM’s seven undergraduate-serving colleges and schools has also subsidized the College of Medicine—with $61 million in net undergraduate tuition revenue reallocated to the medical school even though it offers no undergraduate majors.

Source: UVM Division of Finance, Budget Documents FY2016 through 2020

Myth: Arts and Sciences must cut spending and close programs to address its $8.4 million structural deficit.

Facts:

  • Budgets are not audited financial statements, showing UVM’s total resources and total expenses. They are instead planning documents that show how administration has decided to allocate resources—including the $88 million in net undergraduate tuition generated by Arts and Sciences since 2016.
  • Top administration has chosen to redirect $34 million in net tuition revenue generated by Arts and Sciences over the past five years to other “priorities,” including more than $23 million annually to cover the base salaries and benefits for 131 mid- and top-level administrators.
  • The “structural deficit” is thus created by UVM’s central administration as it systematically redirects revenue generated by Arts and Sciences teaching elsewhere and allocates less money to Arts and Sciences than is needed for the college that has the most majors and serves all 10,700 of UVM’s undergraduate students.

Sources: UVM Division of Finance, Budget Documents FY2016 through 2020; Office of Institutional Research UVM Base Pay

Myth: The pandemic has threatened UVM’s financial stability, necessitating hard choices.

Facts:

  • President Garimella introduced the 2020 Financial Report with the declaration that “the state of UVM’s finances is sound” and that the university’s net position has increased by $24 million.
  • Vice President of Finance Richard Cate reported in May that UVM’s $34 million reserve or “rainy day” fund remains untouched.
  • Pandemic costs were offset by $45 million in federal CARES funding directed to UVM by the Vermont legislature with the understanding that this generous allocation would protect campus jobs.
  • UVM’s financial future is protected by an endowment currently valued at more than half a billion dollars.
  • UVM trustees have not made the hard choice of cancelling or scaling back a planned $95 million sports arena whose construction has been only temporarily halted by the pandemic.

Sources: UVM 2020 Financial Report; Faculty Senate Finance and Physical Planning Committee May 2020 meeting minutes; Philip Baruth, chair, Vermont Senate Education Committee

Myth: UVM administration has shared in the COVID pay cuts imposed on non-unionized staff.

Facts:

  • While staff wages increased by 2% from 2019 to 2020, salaries for nearly all of UVM’s 131 executives grew considerably more, including double-digit salary increases for fifteen administrators that ranged from 11.21% to 48.02% with an average pay increase for this group of 25%.
  • The 5% to 8.3% base pay cuts that most top and mid-level administrators have taken for 2021 have reduced executive base pay salary spending by about $1 million. However, this “savings” is cancelled out by $1.1 million in compensation beyond base pay—including bonuses—that administrators took in 2020 and the first five and a half months of 2021.
  • The money “saved” by terminating three senior lecturers in English, Geology, and History (combined base salary $171,000) is less than the 2020 bonus pocketed by UVM’s men’s basketball coach ($235,000).
  • The $1.1 million in extra compensation pocketed by administrators between July 1, 2019 and November 15, 2020, is almost double the $600,000 administration aims to “save” by shuttering the departments of Classics, Geology, and Religion.

Source: Office of Institutional Research UVM Base Pay; UVM administration response to UVM United Academics’ collective bargaining information request regarding additional executive compensation beyond base pay.

Myth: The struggle for the future of liberal arts at UVM is a struggle between humanities and STEM fields.

Facts:

  • Physical sciences are a vital part of the liberal arts along with the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
  • At UVM, the future of the physical sciences is threatened by the planned termination of the Geology department and also by an administrative proposal to reorganize education campus-wide.
  • The administration’s recently unveiled “Reimagining a UVM 2050” would harness teaching and research in the core sciences of biology, chemistry, geology, and physics to the narrow goals of “technological innovation” and “entrepreneurship.”
  • The struggle is for UVM’s reputation as a “public ivy” and for UVM students across all majors to have the opportunities of a public research university combined with the intellectual depth and rigor of a full liberal arts education.

Source: Reimagining a UVM 2050