Fighting the downsizing of education at the University of Vermont.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Free Press Coverage of Budget-Cut Breakfast Protest

April 7, 2009

UVM budget protests continue

By Tim Johnson
Free Press Staff Writer

Budget-cutting protests have resumed at the University of Vermont, with a Monday morning demonstration outside the president's office and plans for a walkout Thursday.

Initial budget reductions for the next fiscal year, announced in February and totaling about $10.8 million, continue to draw objections from faculty, students and staff. United Academics, the faculty union, cites a survey of faculty that shows the impact of cuts falling heavily on the English department, environmental studies and the Helix program for undergraduate science research, among other areas.

Other reductions drawing notice have been in athletics, where intercollegiate baseball and softball have been eliminated for next year; and the UVM farm, where the dairy herd and staff will be cut.

Staff layoffs include 16 announced in February "plus 10 others that were part of separate actions," said university spokesman Enrique Corredera. In addition, he said, about 12 full-time lecturers would not be rehired, along with "a significantly higher number of part-time lecturers." The final outcome, he said, would not be known until summer.

English could lose three tenure-track faculty positions, as departing professors specializing in Victorian literature, fiction writing, and modern British and Irish literature are not expected to be replaced. The Helix program, which supports about 30 undergraduate lab research projects a year, will lose four staff members, said coordinator Gayle Bress; the program will continue but not under the College of Arts & Sciences, Corredera said. Loss of a lecturer in the environmental program leaves 4.6 full-time equivalent faculty serving more than 400 majors, the union said.

Facing flagging revenue in a deepening recession, the administration has vowed to carry out budget cuts without compromising academic quality, even as the overall student-faculty ratio is brought up to a longstanding goal of 16 to 1. Protesters have said academic quality will suffer under cuts already announced.

"We're concerned that our central administration may not be aware of how deeply their planned cuts will erode student experience and how desperate the situation is in some departments," said David Shiman, United Academics president, in a news release. The union said understaffing in the environmental and civil engineering programs puts accreditation at risk.

"Final decisions about the reallocation of resources to academic units are not yet final and will not be concluded until the budget recommendation in May to the board of trustees," Corredera said. The board will review and approve the fiscal 2010 budget, which begins July 1, at its May meeting.

Monday morning's event in the Waterman Building offered a stand-up breakfast with a "let them eat gruel" theme -- in keeping with what protesters called a starvation diet being imposed on academic programs.

The "gruel," ladled out from a pot on the floor, was oatmeal cooked by junior Ali Ascherio. It wasn't as tasteless as the fictional version in Dickens' "Oliver Twist" -- Ascherio said he made it with maple syrup, butter and applies -- but it helped them make their point.

About 40 students, faculty and staffers attended. Sponsors included United Academics; United Electrical Workers Local 267, another UVM bargaining unit, with a contract due to expire July 1; United Staff, which is attempting to unionize unrepresented UVM workers; and Students Stand Up, a group that has mobilized to protest the cuts.

The student group said a walkout protest would be staged at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, beginning with a rally in front of the Bailey-Howe Library and followed by a march to the Waterman Building, which houses administrative offices.

UVM administrators have said a second round of cuts might be announced later this spring, depending partly on prospects for state funding. Budget cutting plans earlier this year were based on the assumption that state funding would be reduced in fiscal hard times. The $10.8 million in reductions already announced were part of what administrators said would be total reduction of about $15 million for fiscal 2010.

The faculty union has said the expected infusion of federal stimulus money should ease UVM's financial burden significantly.

A budget appropriation approved by the Vermont House last week, and now awaiting review in the Senate, restores funding for UVM and Vermont State Colleges in the current fiscal year and next year to previous levels.

In UVM's case, that's an addition of several million dollars that could ease the financial stress next year -- but it's also a one-time boost that will not be available after the federal stimulus program expires.

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