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Friday, April 10, 2009


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April 10, 2009

Hundreds walk out at UVM

Students leave classes to protest budget cuts

By Tim Johnson, Free Press Staff Writer

Thursday’s student-organized walkout drew the biggest protest crowd by far since the University of Vermont’s budget woes began, but the rally followed a familiar course with a familiar outcome.

There were speeches, a march, a raucous demonstration outside the administrative offices, but the announced budget cuts and layoffs — the Phase 1 reductions totaling $10.8 million that sparked much of the campus anger that fed the protest — will stand.

Those cutbacks are here to stay, Chief Financial Officer Richard Cate said in an interview that preceded the noisy gathering outside the executive suite. The question now for the administration is whether to proceed with Phase 2, he said, and that likely won’t be decided until May, when the state budget is completed and UVM has a better sense of its fall tuition revenue.

Brightening prospects for state and federal funding, which could bring UVM about $9.5 million more in public support next year than UVM budgeteers forecast a few months ago, will not lead to restoration of the staff jobs, varsity sports or other programs that were cut."> Gallery: UVM student protest

The reason, Cate said, is the administration is trying to balance its fiscal year 2010 budget in the face of a structural shortfall that’s at least $12.8 million, even if UVM receives normal state funding and tuition revenue. Structural, Cate said, means a permanent shortfall that will be there every year unless it’s reduced in some permanent way, as the $10.8 million in cuts are designed to do.

Cate had no opportunity to make that argument when he emerged from the locked administrative suite to address the crowd in the Waterman Building. This was a loud but civil confrontation, and he was presented with a list of 13 demands by members of Students Stand Up, the ad-hoc group that organized the demonstration.

Among the demands were that the administration “revoke all dismissals,” forswear more layoffs, reinstate baseball and softball, cap tuition and enrollment and return the last two years’ worth of administrative bonuses. Cate said administrators were studying some of these demands, but when students demanded an on-the-spot “yes” or “no” to the full list, he replied “not yet,” drawing jeers.

The crowd was in the hundreds, filling most of Waterman’s first-floor hallway. The numbers apparently swelled with students who left class to participate in the rally, which began in front of the library at 1:30 p.m.

Among them were Chris McManus, a sophomore who walked out of his class in Canadian literature; Sarah Barnard, a sophomore who left North American archaeology; and Jane Smith, a junior who walked out of American literature.

Their instructors apparently didn’t hold them back. Some teachers reportedly dismissed classes early. McManus said his teacher taped the lecture so students could hear it later on a podcast.

“I’m not a protester,” McManus said, “but I want to support the students and faculty.”

Smith said her instructor advised students to participate in the demonstration, and she wanted to because “they’re cutting a lot from English and anthropology, my major and minor, and I think it’s important to have small classes.”

Ann Sheperdson, one of six lecturers who have been told they won’t be rehired next fall in women’s and gender studies, was among the speakers at the rally, urging the students to “speak truth to power.”

Sheperdson said non-reappointed lecturers number 107, based on reports gathered by faculty. The administration has said it won’t have a number until summer.

Members of Students Stand Up said they would debrief each other later Thursday before deciding their next steps.

“More actions” are coming, promised student Catherine Nopper.

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