UVM Department of English declares 'No Confidence' in administration

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UVM Department of English declares 'No Confidence' in administration

Wed, 12/16/2020 - 2:58pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine In an emergency meeting of the Department of English at the University of Vermont on Tuesday, faculty endorsed the following statement and called for it to be released to the press and public:

“The Department of English by unanimous vote has no confidence in the University of Vermont administration for its budget decisions that are gutting the College of Arts and Sciences. We call on Dean Bill Falls to resign as dean rather than continue to oversee cuts, layoffs, and closures.”

This vote of no confidence and call for the dean’s resignation came hours after faculty learned that a senior lecturer with 31 years of service to UVM was being terminated for what Falls called “purely financial” reasons. Also facing termination are other long-serving and award-winning senior lecturers, including in the departments of Geology and History.

In recent weeks, Falls has further proposed closing the departments of Classics, Geology, and Religion whose classes serve hundreds of UVM students each year and whose faculty have earned national and international distinction for their research and scholarship. He also seeks to eliminate more than 25 majors, minors, and programs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

While Falls has asserted that such cuts are necessary to close a budget gap of more than $8 million, faculty have pointed out that UVM President Suresh Garimella recently announced a $24 million increase in UVM’s net position despite the pandemic challenges facing higher education.

In a meeting between UVM Arts and Sciences faculty and Falls on Tuesday, Professor of English Helen Scott stressed that the core educational mission is being starved to pay for the university administration’s “excesses, inefficiencies, and redundancies” in extra-academic priorities such as plans for a new sports arena.

“You can’t be starved into health, and that’s what’s being done to this college,” Scott said.

Under the banner “UVM Hoarding Money While Gutting Essential Programs,” a coalition of University of Vermont students, faculty, alumni, and community members will hold a virtual press conference Thursday, December 17, at 1:00 pm.

The press conference comes two days after at least three senior lecturers—who have served UVM students for 12, 28, and 31 years—received notice of termination after this academic year.

The coalition, UVM United Against the Cuts, argues in a statement released Wednesday that faculty and staff layoffs plus proposed elimination of the departments of Classics, Geology, and Religion and more than 25 majors, minors, and programs in the College of Arts and Sciences not only would seriously damage the University’s mission and reputation. Such cuts are also financially unnecessary.

In the University’s 2020 financial report, President Suresh Garimella stated that “the state of UVM finances is sound” with a $24 million increase in UVM’s net position. In a May budget report, UVM Vice President of Finance Richard Cate noted that UVM administrators have not touched a $34 million discretionary reserve (or "rainy day") fund.

Charles-Louis Morand Métivier, associate professor of French, said, “It’s all about the money—COVID is being used to do all kinds of things by the administration. All the things they’ve wanted to do for a very long time.”

While the Covid-19 pandemic has had serious repercussions across higher education, the speakers will point out the disparity between UVM’s still-robust finances and the severity of cuts that administrators admit would result in scant budgetary savings. Instead, the proposed cuts would undermine UVM’s “Public Ivy” reputation.

Paul Bierman, Professor of Geology, argues that his program’s proposed cancellation would cost UVM both students and grant funding. “It’s going to immediately make it harder for us to earn research dollars,” he said.

Press conference speakers include faculty, students, and alumni from the three departments slated for closure plus campus and community supporters such as award-winning author and former UVM Marsh Professor Alison Bechdel. Moderating will be Ari Kotler, a UVM senior majoring in political science.

Several students and faculty members noted that the programs and departments slated for elimination serve UVM’s much-touted diversity goals. Jessica (Penny) Evans, a UVM alum and lecturer in Classics, said, “We need the humanists and the social scientists doing the hard labor of critiquing the questions asked by science, how those questions are informed by racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia.”

UVM United Against the Cuts. FAQs about UVM’s Underfunding of Education

COVID has jeopardized colleges and universities nationwide. Doesn’t UVM have to make cuts to stay afloat?

With some $38 million in public COVID relief funds, UVM has weathered pandemic crisis in remarkable financial health:

·       “[T]he state of UVM’s finances is sound,” President Suresh Garimella reported in his letter accompanying UVM’s 2020 Financial Report, with “an increase of $24 million in the University’s position.”

·       At the May 2020 meeting of the Faculty Senate Financial and Physical Planning Committee, Vice President Richard Cate reported that UVM’s $34 million reserve (“rainy day”) fund remained untapped.

Plaguing UVM is an increasingly starved academic budget to feed administrative bloat. Consider:

·       Total base pay for four professors and one lecturer in Classics ($334,524) is less than half the total base pay for the CAS dean and his three associate deans ($648,210).

·       Total base pay for eight Geologists ($875,424) is less than half the base pay ($2 million) for eight vice presidents.

Bottom line: UVM has the money, but administrators are withholding these dollars from education.

The College of Arts and Sciences has a “structural deficit” of $8.4 million. Shouldn’t CAS live within its budget?

When administration budgets too little for CAS—UVM’s largest college whose courses in language, literature, arts, writing, science, diversity, and sustainability serve all undergraduates—they manufacture a budget crisis. For example:

·       In the past five years CAS brought UVM nearly $89 million in net (after financial aid) undergraduate tuition but was granted only $60 million to fund its departments, programs, and classes.

·       Thus, far from spending more than it brings in, CAS has provided some $30 million in support to the rest of the campus—including College of Medicine even though the College of Medicine has no undergraduate majors.

Bottom line: A manufactured budget crisis cloaks the redirection of money away from the College of Arts and Science.

Administrators have assured students that department closures and cancelled programs won’t affect course offerings.

Shuttering departments and cancelling majors and minors will affect course offerings and quality in at least two ways:

·       CAS can only close its manufactured budget deficit by eliminating staff and faculty, resulting in fewer courses.

·       UVM’s teacher-scholars bring their research into classrooms and mentor young scholars in labs and field. A handful of faculty may remain on hand to teach introductory courses—but lose the ability to pursue research to keep their teaching relevant and vibrant.

Bottom line: Cuts to CAS departments and programs are a cut to UVM quality.

If departments and programs like Asian Literatures & Languages, Classics, Geology, Italian, Latin American & Caribbean Studies, and Religion are graduating few majors each year, doesn’t that indicate low student interest?

Not at all. Students across the campus turn to these and other programs for their minors, foundational requirements, and required courses for popular interdisciplinary majors such as Environmental Sciences. In the Fall 2020 semester alone

·       more than 300 students enrolled in such Geology courses as “Earth Systems Science,” “Environmental Geology,” and “Field Geology.”

·       more than 200 students turned to Religion to meet foundational writing, diversity, and Liberal Arts Scholars Program requirements.

·       even at the advanced level, challenging courses in Japanese and Chinese were filled to, and even beyond, capacity. (So too were the Arabic language classes before these offerings were eliminated in 2017.)

Nor can the value of the program be measured by “student credit hours” alone:

·       Despite a perilously shrinking faculty—two retired professors not replaced, a celebrated senior lecturer axed to close a college budget gap—the Classics department is celebrated for their annual Latin Day for Vermont high schools and their Home from War course for returning veterans. And Professor Jacques Bailly, by serving as the official “pronouncer” for the National Spelling Bee, has even achieved some television fame!

Bottom line: UVM can and must reinvest in its liberal arts core. As Forbes warns, these cuts will otherwise “deal a hard blow to a university that has long been admired for its academic quality.”

Source: Burlington, VT—UVM United Against the Cuts 12.16.2020