Students, Staff, and Faculty Together

Fighting the downsizing of education at the University of Vermont.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What's Driving Up UVM Tuition?

Recently the administration told SGA officers that faculty salaries are the driving force behind their latest request for a 4.8% tuition hike - and they've told the faculty senate executive council that if trustees don't approve the request, "100 layoffs" will be the result (sound familiar?).

But the administration's own general fund budget tells a different story: Over the past five years, even as the number of students and the tuition they pay have grown, the share of the budget going to academics, academic support, and physical plant (i.e., faculty, the libraries, and the classrooms/dorms where students learn and live) has declined. While our peer institutions devote between 52 and 57% of their operating budgets to academics, UVM's share for academics has fallen to less than 48%. No wonder seats in classes with fewer than 40 students are hard to find while capacity in large lectures has mushroomed.

Where has the money gone? "Institutional Support" - that is, administration - has grown slightly. (Because of layoffs of much-needed clerical staff, how much growth there has been at the top isn't really captured here). And the share eaten up by "Debt Service" - that is, the Davis Center - has more the doubled.

We shouldn't face a Hobbesian choice between hiking tuition or facing further cuts to staff and faculty. The administration whose budget decisions have brought us to this place need now to make the hard choice of cutting back on their size and expense: No tuition hike; cut from the top.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Teach-In to Defend Public Education at UVM

Marking the one-year anniversary of the arrest of student activists for sitting in to protest President Fogel's plans to cut faculty and staff while increasing tuition and the student body, some 100 students filled Livak Ballroom last week to consider where we've been and where we are going. Below are two talks from that teach-in plus a couple of charts to give us a picture of the UVM administration's continuing priorities: fewer faculty and staff, bigger classes, bigger salaries for those at that top.

Students Stand Up! is getting re-organized and will be using this blog through the summer to hit the ground running come fall. La lutte continue!

Introduction: Nancy Welch, Professor of English, United Academics Delegates Assembly Chair:

Last March after President Fogel announced that he had no choice but to downsize faculty and staff while increasing tuition and the number of students at UVM, 1,000 students, faculty, and staff walked out in protest. A month later 32 students held a sit-down protest in a hallway of Waterman, to which President Fogel responded by calling in the police. The administration did succeed in hamstringing the best activists on this campus with ridiculous court and campus judicial board charges. But because of last spring’s mass protests, the administration was also thwarted in carrying out the full extent of its downsizing plans. At the end of last school year the administration even announced that they’d miraculously found several million dollars to reinvest in faculty and staff positions that had been slated to be cut.

This year, however, it’s become increasingly clear that all is not well. Fifty-seven of 170 so-called part-time lecturers were given no teaching at all this semester – including Jay Moore, a Kroepsch-Maurice teaching award winner and historian who had been teaching at UVM for more than a decade. Some two dozen vacant professor positions have been frozen or eliminated. The result of fewer faculty and more students has been, of course, larger classes: This year, according to the registrar’s own figures, 2,682 fewer seats for students were in small classes of 12 to 29 students while the number of spots for students in large classes of 150 to 249 jumped by 6,980. And if you’ve been trying to get into a writing class, forget it: This year there were 33 percent fewer sections of English 1, our first-year composition course and 50 percent fewer offerings of English 50, the intermediate composition course. That’s just one example of the kinds of shut-outs students are experiencing.

So what has the administration done with their savings from laying off long-time lecturers and staff and herding more students, especially first- and second-year students into 200-seat lecture halls? They’ve given themselves raises: not the kinds of raises that faculty have received because we unionized to try to staunch the bleeding of resources away from education on the ground. For the average assistant professor in Arts and Sciences, for instance, a 5 percent raise last year on an average salary of $59,000 meant less than $3,000. In contrast UVM’s interim provost received a salary increase of $106,000. All told, ten top administrators received five-figure raises this year ranging from $11,536 for UVM’s vice president for research—bringing his salary to $251,718—to an $82,647 raise for the dean of Natural Resources—even while a long-time Environmental Studies faculty member was reduced from full to three-quarters time. Two administrators received six-figure raises, interim provost Jane Knodell, who now draws a salary of $251,300, and interm engineering dean Bernard Cole, whose raise of more than $100,000 raised his salary from $89,250 to $190,000—what has become typical for UVM’s administrative class which does no teaching, does no research, provides no direct services to students but who do dream up schemes like the transdisciplinary research initiative—that is, a plan to starve undergraduate education even further in order to try to staff and fund a handful of research “spires” that supposedly will attract grant dollars, national attention, and make it worth it for students to pay more than $40,000 a year to sit large lecture-hall classes and have your learning measured by machine-scored testing.

So all is not well at UVM and tonight’s teach-in will take us through some of the reasons why. But we also have some bright spots that tonight should also point us towards: First, it’s because of the activism on this campus last year as draconian budget cuts were raining down on public colleges and universities nationwide that students across the country this year, especially in California, are now protesting en masse. Next, three votes by the faculty and a key resolution from the Student Government Association have thrown up a roadblock in the administration’s plans to shift resources from undergraduate education to fund their TRI spires. We have a long struggle ahead and going around is a sign-up sheet: If you want to be part of organizing to bring arguments from tonight’s panel to the Board of Trustees next month and to hit the ground round next fall, please sign up. And we need to get educated. So let me introduce tonight’s speakers. Each will be speaking for about 15 minutes; after that, we should have a good half hour for whole-room discussion.

Our first speaker will be Kate Ash, vice president of the Student Government Association, who recently delivered to UVM trustees an argument against yet another tuition hike to pay for administrative bloat and mismanagement. Next is Pablo Bose, a professor in Geography, active in the Faculty and here tonight to also help us connect the situation at UVM with the attacks on public education that reach far beyond Vermont. Then we’ll hear from Stephen Hannaford, an SGA senator and organizer in Students Stand Up, which spear-headed last year’s fight against budget cuts. And we’ll conclude with Nagesh Rao, a professor of postcolonial literature from the College of New Jersey, a founding member of the Free the Academy network, and an activist in struggles against public education and public sector cuts in New Jersey.

My Students Stand Up Story: Stephen Hannaford, SGA senator and SSU organizer

In the early winter of 2008, as the spectacle of the Wall Street meltdown was in full swing and (in language that echoed President Obama and Chairman Bernanke who urged us to “tighten our belts,” and “prepare for tougher times that lay ahead”) the powers that be on this campus had begun sending out terse, placating e-mails to the community about the University’s sudden, unexpected budget deficit, a small group of astute students, staff and faculty members formed a coalition called Students, Staff and Faculty Together (SSFT). This coalition was the first to respond, quite loudly, to the communications in November and December from the President and his “Ad Hoc Strategic Budget Advisers Committee,” a committee of campus elites including Vice President Grasso, the former SGA President Taylor, and President Burgmeier of the Faculty Senate, which had begun a rhetorical campaign—or rather an onslaught through e-mail and through visitations with the governance bodies on campus—with the clear objective of resolving the deficit by pushing the cuts through with as little opposition and democratic input as possible.

I was writing for the Vermont Cynic at that time, reporting on SSFT’s first press conference, and after doing the research for this article, looking at the President’s initial estimates for the deficit—$22 million dollars as of December 2—and then examining the recent financial history of the his administration - $60 million for this building, something like $10 million to implement human resources software that didn’t work, an additional $ 6-7 million dollars a year (compared to the beginning of this decade) for upper administrative salaries…

After doing this research, well, I decided I had better join the coalition—because it didn’t take a Vice President of Finance or Research or Development or Enrollment Management or any of the other 20-some-odd vice presidents we have now to figure out that the argument that UVM’s sudden deficit was due solely to “unpredictable” market forces and not to an irresponsible, overzealous strategy of “focus and invest” deployed by the Fogel administration—it didn’t take a Vice President to figure out that that argument did not hold water—and that the hole busted in our already frail budget by the collapse of the housing market was going to be patched by cutting lecturers, cutting staff, cutting academic support, cutting student athletics, terminating searches for much-needed tenure-track faculty, and continuing to raise tuition.

Under intense pressure from the unions and the various contingents on campus he released initial estimates of the amount of people that would be laid off in the Spring, but from the outset we saw that down in the Wing, in his offices, they were immediately shifting the focus away from themselves. While talking about making “tough but necessary decisions,” the president sent out letters that lauded his committee for all their work, attempted to pacify a concerned university community by highlighting the “strategic” nature of the cuts, transforming the word “layoff” into the more benign “non-renewal,” claiming that the rise in student to teacher ratios was actually a good thing because it helped us reach our targeted goals, and of course throwing in the obligatory mention of diversity, congratulating his own administration for the increase in ALANA applications. I don’t think the obvious solution of cutting the salaries of the people responsible for managing the school’s budget—he and his Vice Presidents—was mentioned once.

Now this is all to say that we, as students, were sensing a clear and present need to take action. The students in SSFT formed Students Stand Up! At our first meeting we drew up some action plans and divided into groups to handle flyering, literature, fact sheet production; we put a zine together with poetry and drawings as well as a guide to understanding the deficit and deconstructing the administration’s shock doctrines. I believe there was another group handling the planning for our first march. It seems now that overnight, almost like it was an automatic response to the tension we felt on campus, there were 15 or 30 of us meeting every Tuesday in the Martin Luther King Lounge, three and four of us sitting down every day together in the library discussing tactics, discussing the latest e-mail from President Fogel. You had kids from the Student Labor Action Project who were tight and full of fight coming off their recent livable wage campaign, you had students from the ISO there ready to organize. But what seems amazing to me now (it wasn’t amazing then because it was the moment, it was my first experience with activism and I had no idea what it was supposed to be like) was that many of us were not the ones you would plug as “radicals” or as “campus activists.” We were athletes, we were psychology students, we were artists—we were just an average sample of the student body blessed with the guidance and experience of some amazing, charismatic, seasoned activists. And I think this was because at that time, with the worldwide media spectacle going on around the crash and the tension that was so high on our campus, the feeling of crisis was very salient to all of us.

I remember someone saying to me last spring, “It seems like every institution we know of right now is in crisis,” and we saw the gaping holes in the administration’s explanation of the budget crisis, holes in their assurance that we had nothing to worry about, that President Fogel and the Deans and the campus leaders were going to handle this deficit, and we were going to make it out okay, almost the better for it because we were reaching our strategic goals and we were, to paraphrase the poetics of President Fogel, an island of calm in an ocean of troubled waters. I think this all exacerbated a feeling of dissonance we as students at UVM are all very accustomed to at this point. You know, we are on a campus that is saturated with the rhetoric of diversity, of sustainability, of social justice and gender equity and all these things that so many of us care so deeply about, but that are terms the University has commodified, really just beaten into submission and robbed of their true meaning in its public relations literature. Because regardless of the beautiful, convincing language he uses when he talks about these things, the President is wrong if he thinks we are a sustainable campus and a diverse campus, President Fogel is wrong when he stands behind the really quite offensive assumption that this school embodies the ideal of social justice. We are a campus that is as segregated as ever. We do nothing, nothing at all to subvert the socially unjust practices in public education in this country; in fact we perpetuate them in the way we select students for admission. And this room, this $60 million building we are sitting in right now is proof that our commitment to sustainability is a wash, it’s a green wash that we sell here at UVM, notwithstanding the work some of our faculty are involved in.

So this, I think, captures some of the feelings and the thoughts that drove Students Stand Up! last Spring. We distributed our zines and our fact sheets, and in February we held our first march with Students, Staff, and Faculty Together. It was a funeral for public education. About fifty or 75 of us met here in the Davis Center with a coffin and some placards in the shape of tombstones and we marched to Waterman, chanting along the way, and stopping on the steps of the Royall Tyler theater to listen to the more eloquent among us speak out. We delivered the coffin to the President’s wing to let him know we were all very concerned and then next month when the Trustees were in town the students marched again. We had made a beautiful puppet of President Fogel and written a script and a score for a guerilla theater piece—very much inspired by the Bread & Puppet theater—and we performed it downstairs here in the Atrium to rave reviews, and then we sent out a welcoming committee to the renovated McCauley hall where the president and the provost and the trustees were going to be touring the newly renovated office building— now dormitory into which they were cramming the additional 300 students we admitted this year.

At some point, probably after turning the corner at Spring Break, SSU started meeting twice a week to continue building up towards the end of the semester. We kept distributing the zine and our other literature, and we also began our own sort of teach-ins in our classes and the classes of willing faculty members. We were so well-versed in the budget and the crisis at this point, so two at a time, we would get up in front of a class—sometimes a 20-person seminar in Living and Learning, sometimes a 300-person lecture in the Billings Theatre—and for the first ten minutes of their class period we would present the figures around the deficit, explain the process the administration was taking to resolve it, the anticipated layoffs, and the projected cuts to academics, and then we would make our case for taking action—for walking out on April 9th. We also started having at oatmeal breakfast in front of the President’s wing two days a week, and we would welcome everybody to work as they came in, remind them to put people over profit, and the cops would come and stand guard at the door and it was all very humorous because we knew we were not doing anything against the law or university policy, so these huge, armed police officers only succeeded in intimidating the administrators and office staff on their way into the wing.

One of the grand ironies of the spring too was that, during these breakfasts, Richard Cate, the man whose job it was to fix the whole mess former CFO Michael Gower created with Peoplesoft and all the other unbudgeted expenses, was the only administrator who came out of the office and sat down and talked to us. And it was, he, not President Fogel, whom we contacted over and over again throughout the semester, Richard Cate was the only administrator who agreed to hear the concerns of the students last year because he realized what we were doing was entirely valid and justified, and that we were using the tactics we did, in large part, because our student representatives, Jay Taylor and the SGA, were failing us. I think the irony of that taught us a lot about how power works, and how confounding and frustrating it can be to confront it.

So we got 1,000 students to walk out of class on April 9th and rally, we cut out cardboard figures to represent the staff and faculty we were losing, we made a list of our demands, we spoke out in front of our student center, and on the steps of Waterman, we delivered our demands to President Fogel, requested he meet with us to discuss them, and we were ignored. I should say, the student body as a whole was ignored, as more students turned out for the walkout than vote in most SGA elections.

So, in the face of continued uncertainty, and with our actions ignored by President Fogel and his administration, we began planning an occupation. I want to pause and congratulate all of the students from SSU here for our perseverance and our solidarity last year. Looking back it was nothing short of amazing that we were able to stick together, to operate on near consensus in everything we did, to revisit all year our internal dynamic, and hold ourselves (more or less) to an extremely high standard in the way we treated one another and in the awareness we maintained of the gendered and racialized power dynamics that inevitably pervade groups in our society. I really did not know until visiting UC Irvine this past winter how special the people in SSU were. I want to finish up soon and leave time for discussion, so I will say, we organized an occupation—I think it was a year and a week ago today. A small group of students entered the president’s wing, declared peaceful intentions, sat down quietly in the middle of the hallway and locked themselves together. The three of us on support made sure they were comfortable, fed them cookies, called the ACLU, and the other organizers who were up here at the sit-in diversion we had staged to let them know to bring the party down to Waterman. We presented our demands to President Fogel who was extremely indignant, dismissive, and paternalistic. He basically scolded us, told us our concerns were ridiculous, and then snuck out the back door of his office to attend a gala at the Fleming museum, leaving, again, Richard Cate to sit with us, and explain why he could not make any decisions on our demands without the approval of President Fogel. The cops came, those who were locked down got arrested, and we sat-in outside the wing for the remainder of the evening, singing, eating pizza, generally feeling more alive than we had ever felt anywhere else on campus. We had a Twitter page up at the time, and we tried to get students down to join us with the hopes that we could occupy Waterman itself without using chains and barricades, and it would have worked because 300 people showed up. Unfortunately, Chief Margolis was a close follower of our tweets and he and his officers beat the students down there, and closed off the building. When it was all said and done, I think twenty seven of us were arrested and charged with trespassing. We were released from Waterman, which, had it not been shut down prematurely, would have still been unlocked…

So, where are we now? The upheaval last spring caused the university to change its tone and its actions around the budget cuts dramatically. I think any of the organizers and participants in this room will agree that we never felt tangible victory in any of our actions last spring, but each time we pushed, they relented just a little bit. We did not succeed entirely in any of our demands—baseball and softball were eliminated; though they were covered up, eliminations, non-renewals—layoffs—went through; empty positions were eliminated; tuition went up; and when it was all said and done, Fogel made out with $9,000 more than the year before—presumably a bonus for handling things so well. But we got more money for financial aid, there were reinvestments in academic units, and the layoffs were nowhere near the initial estimates. We continued the work of, and I think we honored the work of, the students who organized the divest from apartheid campaign in the early 80s and those who took over Waterman in 1988 and 1990 to demand that something be done to address the climate on this campus and to start an ethnic studies program among many other demands around diversity that remain unmet. We continued and honored the work of students in the Livable Wage campaign as well as all other organizers who have blessed this campus with their presence.

But where are we now? The Transdisciplinary Research Initiative and the rest of President Fogel’s 2009-2014 Strategic Vision is a continuation of the shock doctrine of 2008’s budget crisis, as well as a new chapter in the Fogel Administration’s transformation of UVM that is bringing it further away from its mission and its responsibilities as an institution with commitments to diversity, social justice, sustainability and affordable public education. We are not and will never be a premier small research university as President Fogel and Vice President Grasso and Provost Knodell assert we will become. Nor should we be. I think the others here can speak to this more knowledgably than I, so my conclusion will be sort of abrupt and flat compared to the stories from last year. As students, we need to remain vigilant. The university has ratcheted up its policies against free speech, revising the solicitation policy this year so that you can essentially be silenced and reprimanded for anything a university official deems “disruptive.” The transparency around the TRI is awful, and we are plodding along with an astounding amount of institutional amnesia—you would think that the President and his administration have forgotten about last year. We need to continue to watch and to read and to listen in on what is happening in the offices and conference rooms on this campus, and we need to continue to hold the SGA accountable, in fact we need to get involved with the SGA and legitimize it by actually turning out and voting in its elections. Faculty and staff need to join students—not wait for them to lead—in organizing against the continued privatization and corporatization of our school. We are in a trough in terms of the energy and vitality among the student organizers here. But that does not mean we have been defeated. Far from it. Apartheid was not the last protest, the diversity takeovers were not the last protest, SSU will never be co-opted the way activism has been in the past by the administration and its PR department. Stay awake. Stay alive. Keep fighting…

Loss of Seats for Students in Small Classes, Rise in Seats in Lecture-Hall Classes (from the Faculty Senate Policy and Planning Committee, using Registrar Office Figures

Changes in the Salaries of UVM's Top ($150k+) Administrators from 2009 to 2010 (excluding medical school positions)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fogel's priorities v. ours

The Burlington Free Press's Tim Johnson just posted a new blog entry following up on Fogel's recent administrative appointments. The positions, salaries, and Fogel's explanation of the need, particularly for the new senior advisor on the "commercialization of intellectual property" can be found at

What I especially want to point to is how Fogel responded to Johnson's question regarding his late-February promise that he would be streamlining the administration. Fogel now says:

"A prevailing theme of our decision-making has been, of necessity, adjusting to changing circumstances. As you know, as our financial picture improved, our projected layoff numbers were significantly reduced, as were our departmental budget reductions to academic units.

"As a matter of fact, we were able to reinvest significant monies in our highest priorities. Our decisions on administrative structure and costs will be ongoing and informed by new data that emerges. Fortunately, we have been able to operate in a less crisis-oriented mode, and are able to make more carefully considered decisions as a result.

"This fall we will be completing a comprehensive administrative benchmarking study vis-a-vis comparable universities, and we will be able to provide a full accounting of administrative positions and costs in relation to what they have been historically at UVM and also within the national context in higher education. I am strongly committed to increasing efficiencies wherever possible, which will be an ongoing process rather than an unveiling of a large plan. I am also committed to hiring and retaining talented individuals who will actively focus on achieving UVM's most important goals."

So Fogel's "highest priorities" were to preserve and even add to his administration while (in the end how many?) first-round staff layoffs and hour reductions still went through, full-time lecturers were not reappointed, tenure-track positions were eliminated (in English we got Victorian literature back but still lost creative writing and Irish literature lines), and (again how many?) part-time faculty were cut.

Here's the response I just posted on Tim Johnson's blog:

"Tim, you might consider asking Fogel's administration to give a full postmortem on the cuts they did make:

* the number of Phase I staff layoffs (and any additional staff layoffs) that went through;
* the number of staff placed on reduced hours and benefits;
* the number of full-time lecturers whose contracts were not renewed;
* the number of part-time lecturers who were not assigned courses for the fall;
* the number of tenure-track lines that were eliminated.

That final accounting against the preservation and even expansion of Fogel's administration should give a pretty clear view of what this president's "highest priorities" are."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Turn: Fogel Should Respect Protesters

June 3, 2009

My Turn: Fogel should respect protesters

By Tina Escaja

Last year, the University of Vermont celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first Waterman takeover by students who'd become convinced that only through this act of civil disobedience would the administration finally sit down to discuss seriously their proposals to diversify the university community and curriculum.

Here's how UVM's The View, in an article this year, described the outcome of occupation of President Lattie Coor's office in the spring of 1988: "After negotiations among faculty, students, and administrators, President Lattie Coor and the protesters emerged from the wing on April 22 with a formal agreement to advance the hiring and recruitment of multicultural faculty and students and enhance the curriculum to build racial and ethnic awareness."

Fast-forward to spring 2009 when a small group of students held a sit-in at President Dan Fogel's office and a large group sat down in the hallway outside the president's wing, convinced that only through this act of civil disobedience would the administration finally agree to discuss seriously students' concerns that UVM's budget was being balanced at the expense of their educations.

This sit-in was part of a series of events that took place over the months following the announcement of cuts and layoffs that many students and faculty feared threatened quality education at UVM. A few weeks before, many hundreds of students who participated in a walk-out were praised by delighted and appreciative professors and staff. But since students still could not get an audience with President Fogel, they decided, in a most peaceful, even celebratory, manner, to wait in the public premises of the Waterman Building until he would see them.

However, unlike President Coor in 1988, President Fogel did not sit down cross-legged on the floor for long hours of discussion that might culminate in a new Waterman Agreement. Instead, he stepped out of his office, telling the students he'd return in a moment, and then called in the police. Instead of a new Waterman Agreement, what President Fogel brought us this spring were the arrests of and criminal charges against 32 students for carrying out a nonviolent protest of his policies.

I am among many UVM faculty and staff who denounce the mishandling of the sit-in by our administration. I was there, and I could see the solidarity among our students that seriously contrasted with the harsh response by the administration. I saw how the administration had the windows of the president wing covered by blankets and paper to block any communication between the students inside and outside the president's wing. This visual rejection of students' attempt at serious dialogue with President Fogel was appalling, as was the use of force exercised exclusively by one side -- the administration -- to break off negotiations.

Students were then banned from entering this building where they were to take classes, receive honors and take exams that would allow them to graduate. This barring of students from entering the building even to fulfill their obligations as students was another example of administrative overreaction and mishandling of the situation. The explanation that students must "pay for their actions" when the administration itself has not been questioned about their own actions is not satisfactory to faculty such as myself.

What would be helpful at this point would be for the trustees and President Fogel to now actively support the dismissal of charges against all of the students. The sit-in was nonviolent, nondestructive and nonobstructive. The students involved should be celebrated, not punished, for honoring UVM's social justice tradition and for their commitment to our university's future.

Tina Escaja of South Burlington is a professor in romance languages at the University of Vermont.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Testimony and Inspiration for the Struggles Ahead

Thanks to the hard work of Students, Staff, and Faculty Together - launching Students Stand Up and United Academics' "Don't Downsize Education at UVM" campaign to unite the campus in struggling against President Fogel's downsizing plans - the Spring '09 semester at UVM ended with the administration forced to put money back into education and staffing budgets, rehire some laid-off part-time faculty, refund some eliminated professor positions, and at least delay its plans to proceed with "Phase 2" staff and lecturer layoffs. 

But the semester also ended with 32 students facing "trespassing" charges for a half-day sit-in in the administration building during its usual operating and open-to-the-public hours. While the state prosecutor has dropped the charges in exchange for students performing community service (on top of the significant service they've already done for the UVM community, that is!),  the administration has recently called at least some of these students to a judicial hearing with the Center for Student Ethics and Standards. (Remember that the 2008-09 school year began with the revelation that President Fogel and his administration had "squandered millions,"as the Free Press editorialized, in unapproved overpayments to a PeopleSoft consulting group. Shouldn't Fogel be the one called on to answer for ethical challenges and lax standards, especially as his administration, not the national economic downturn, largely created UVM's budget woes?)

In addition, scores of staff and faculty, many of whom had served UVM for a decade or more, have lost their jobs while the executive branch of the administration has not scaled back its size and salary spending even by a single vice president. (In fact, with chief of staff Gary Derr now including "Vice President for Executive Operations" as his title, it looks like they're still adding to their ranks!) And with a grim economic forecast for the many months ahead and calls in Washington not for more stimulus funds for public education and programs but instead for cutting the deficit, including by cutting funds for public education and programs, we can expect the administration this fall to renew and intensify their arguments for downsizing - not themselves, of course, but the faculty and staff on whom students' educations depend.

So below are two dispatches from the end of the Spring '09 semester that may help as we consider how to carry our arguments, struggle, and commitments into the coming school year.

The first is a letter from a long-time staff member that was read to UVM trustees at their May meeting by a member of Students Stand Up; the second is the statement of English professor and United Academics member Helen Scott at the May joint press conference of United Academics and Students Stand Up.

Dear UVM Trustees,

I hope you will read this letter in spite of my hidden identity. I would rather communicate with you openly, but events at UVM and the actions taken by the administration have left me and many others on the staff afraid. Every evidence seems to prove that those who go along are rewarded while anyone who expresses dissent must fear potential punishment. The institution I have been proud to serve for almost two decades has become a place I no longer recognize.

During my time at UVM I have witnessed firsthand the aftermath of the firings of George Davis and Judith Ramaley, the sudden departure of Provost Dalmas Taylor, the 1992 Waterman takeover, the 1995 hunger strike of Shontae Praileau, and shouting matches between Provost Robert Low and community members at public forums over accusations of racist actions by the administration. Through all of these difficulties, I have never felt as disheartened or witnessed such low morale on campus.

Actions taken by President Fogel: his public declaration that he would rather resign than take a pay cut, his insistence that executive bonuses are deserved while dedicated, long-serving, and hard working employees are being laid off, and everyone is being asked to do more with less, have left faculty and staff at UVM feeling demoralized and undervalued. The clear message to so many of us outside the circle of power is that hard work and excellent service to UVM has become expendable. Something that set UVM apart from every other state university, its tight-knit community and small village feel is being sacrificed for expediency. President Fogel seems to think this is a necessary step towards some kind of progress, but what if he is as wrong as so many of us on the front lines, providing services to students believe?

President Fogel has articulated a vision of UVM as an elite institution. Those of us who have dedicated our careers to UVM and to the student body it attracts appreciate a pursuit of excellence, but not a pursuit of elitism. The two are not the same. National scandals in the banking industry have proven that excessive compensation is much more reliable at attracting self-interest and questionable ethics than talent and excellence.

I am told that President Fogel has been a very good fundraiser and of course that ability is important to the success of UVM, but I question whether it will ever be possible for UVM to sustain a president's salary that is competitive with that of the president of the University of Connecticut, e.g.. Vermont is not Connecticut. We will never have that kind of revenue stream to draw on. If President Fogel manages to finish destroying the sense of community and institutional integrity that have made UVM a diamond in the rough for so many like myself, all of us in Vermont will have lost something of rare value. I am one of many who have stayed in Vermont and at UVM in spite of knowing that I could earn more money elsewhere, because I have valued the total experience of being in a place that put integrity ahead of expediency and community ahead of self-interest. Perhaps UVM would be best served by a President who holds similar values.

I want to join everyone who has written in support of the students who have protested President Fogel's budget actions. If I was not afraid, I would have joined their protests. Their actions are the only thing that have given people like me hope in recent months that you, the trustees might look more closely and ask harder questions of Fogel and others. What has been happening at UVM, the way decisions have been made and carried out feels terribly wrong. I am one of many who have lost confidence in President Fogel's leadership and feel ashamed to be represented by his choices and decisions.

A sad and concerned staff member

United Academics-Students Stand Up Press Conference
May 12, 2009
Statement of Helen Scott, Associate Professor of English

In the decade that I have taught in the English department we have lost several tenure track positions, and have increasingly relied on lecturers, who, as several of my colleagues have asked me to make clear, cost less, and have less job security. As the make up of the department has changed, fewer faculty have taken on an increased burden of committee work and advising, which means that we have less time to spend on individual students. We have also struggled to provide the courses that are required both by the college and for our majors. At the same time our full time and part time lecturers have, despite carrying heavy teaching loads for little pay, nonetheless excelled as teachers and colleagues.

Last semester we were told that the university was facing a significant financial crisis and that there was no alternative but to cut positions. United Academics has consistently argued that there are alternatives to layoffs, and that any budget decisions should be driven by academic concerns. But the cuts that were announced earlier this semester were not based on a strategic plan to protect academic quality, but on abstract quotas and ratios. While I do not know all who have lost their jobs, I do know they include lecturers who are committed to UVM and have won tremendous respect and loyalty from their students and colleagues. Some faculty members have been compiling a list of the courses that will be lost: So far, with only a fraction of the reports in, the list has 67 courses. It is apparent from a brief glance that the hard won diversity of the curriculum is a casualty of these cuts, which include Afro-Caribbean Civilization, Art Addressing the Holocaust, and Global Violence against Women and Girls. In the English dept. we are losing courses at the core of the curriculum as well as one-of-a-kind Writing Workshops. We were already hard pressed to meet the needs of our students, and now we have to make do with fewer teachers. 

We heard with great relief and hope, therefore, that the budget gap was nowhere near as large as was initially thought, that money was to be restored, and that the Senate’s Financial and Physical Planning Committee was gathering information from the faculty about individual academic programs, which would then be used to guide future decisions. It was in turn a crushing disappointment to learn that those positions already eliminated are not to be restored. This is inexplicable, and raises questions again about priorities: Some faculty are hoping for an independent audit of executive compensation, looking in to the question, for example, of compensation packages for former administrators returning to faculty ranks.

In the English dept. we can restart one search that was cancelled last year, but this is a drop in the ocean when it comes to what we have lost. And while we have been told that the second round of cuts will not go through as planned, we have no guarantee that future budget decisions will be made strategically, with input from faculty, and guided by concern for academic quality. 

I want to end with some words about the students who are being sanctioned for participating in the recent sit in of Waterman. Over the course of the year, these students have researched, educated, organized, and campaigned against the budget cuts. Why? Because they care about their education, they care about the University, they do not want to lose beloved professors and classes, and they are concerned about underpaid and vulnerable staff who may not be in a position to campaign on their own behalf. After marches and speak outs and a walk out of around a thousand, these students still felt that their concerns had not been heard. So they decided to take the next step and carry out a sit-in. I and other faculty members visited them there: they were not threatening people or property, they were simply asking for a hearing from the president. And when they learned that the President had left the building, some of them decided to take this one step further by refusing to leave in the face of arrest. In doing this they were looking to the tradition of the great heroes of social justice, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, who maintained that non-violent civil disobedience was sometimes necessary in the course of struggle for a cause.

I have heard it said that the administration cannot and should not drop sanctions against these students because they must be held accountable. For myself and many of my colleagues in a department that feels itself to be under siege, this is the university turned upside down. I think of the negative stereotypes sometimes used against today’s students: that they party too much, binge drink, experiment with drugs, that they don’t value education and are not willing to work hard. And then I look at these dedicated students who are demonstrating the opposite: that they are willing to work hard and long to save their education and defend their professors. UVM often prides itself on being the Social Justice University, and draws attention to the student protests of the past: against apartheid in South Africa, for diversity in the university. These students are part of that tradition, and we should applaud, not punish them. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

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