UVM pushes back on claims administration fabricated a budget crisis to justify humanities cuts

Editor’s note: Notably, Prelock did not provide any detail on the nature of the ‘structural challenges’ that she refers to. We also find it exhausting to have to contend with an administration that acts unilaterally and then tells faculty who are deeply concerned about the future of the institution they care deeply for that they ought to be quiet and teach.

 

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Four UVM faculty members claimed Monday that university administrators are manufacturing a budget crisis to justify cuts to the humanities.

“We’ve pored through detailed operating budgets, the actual financial figures and we are determined to reign in an out-of-control administration,” French professor Meagan Emery said Monday.

The group released documents and financial statements they said showed the College of Arts and Sciences enjoying an uptick in student enrollment and a budget surplus overall.

In December, they noted, Moody’s analysis found the university “stable” with a “strong financial outlook.”

UVM classics professor Jacques Bailly said despite administration predictions the pandemic would trigger sharp declines in 2020-21 enrollment, almost none materialized. Bailly said it was clear the school was in “outstanding financial shape.”

For nearly a year, faculty have criticized UVM President Suresh Garimella and other top administrators for proposing to phase out 23 low-enrollment majors and minors at the College of Arts and Sciences. Most graduate only a handful of students each year.

The school’s dean, Bill Fall, told NBC5 in December that cuts were necessary to address a “structural deficit” in Arts and Sciences and given that more staffing was needed in fast-growing program areas like engineering and technology.

But “UVM is flush with cash,” Emery told reporters, with “far more than our public university peers.”

A top administrator said critics have it wrong.

“I think there’s a small group of faculty who really doesn’t understand the ongoing structural challenges in some areas of the university that have to be addressed to position UVM for future success,” said university provost Patty Prelock. Some faculty “would like us to continue to do what we’ve always done, that’s comfortable. Change is difficult, although many of them say ‘we’re not afraid of change.'”

School officials said some critics failed to appreciate that UVM balance sheets include grants, gifts and endowment that may only be used for the purposes donors specified.

“When it comes to budgets, we wish the solution were as simple as the faculty suggests,” Prelock told NBC5.

CAS programs slated to be phased out include religion, German, geology, Vermont studies and classical civilization. Current students would be allowed to finish and graduate. Many courses would be absorbed into other departments, providing a net savings on administrative costs. Some program lecturers learned their contracts for fall 2021 would not be renewed.

Some students are taking notice.

“I do know a lot of students are worried about it and trying to stop it from happening,” said Allison Carey, a UVM senior.

The UVM Faculty Senate is now considering the administration proposal to shift positions and eliminate programs. Emery said some of her colleagues are taking their concerns directly to UVM trustees. The board will have the final say.

Prelock, who also teaches in the UVM Larner College of Medicine, said she appreciated faculty passion but said it’s been exhausting dealing with increasingly sharp criticism from a handful of critics.

“I wish our faculty would focus on doing what they do really well — teaching and supporting our students — and engaging in research and finding solutions,” Prelock said.

Originally published at NBC5  by Stewart Ledbetter, April 12, 2021.