The news that Chancellor Jeb Spaulding proposed closing three campuses in the Vermont State Colleges system spread like wildfire across the Johnson campus of Northern Vermont University on Friday, April 17.
The outcry from current students started immediately, and a sense of panic soon followed.
Rebecca Flieder, a student at NVU-Johnson and editor of Basement Medicine, the college newspaper, has been spending a lot of time processing the news and trying to help calm down frantic friends.
“I feel like I haven’t slept in weeks, though I know this fight only started five days ago,” Flieder said on Tuesday.
Morale was pretty low when students learned Spaulding, who made his proposal on Friday, wanted the system’s board of trustees to make the final decision on Monday.
The decision was postponed, but could still be imminent.
Students wanting to continue their education could transfer to Castleton University.
“To try to push this vote through in less than four days is abhorrent,” Flieder said. “It’s blatant disrespect to the students, staff, faculty and community members who pour their heart and soul into their campuses.”
Other students agree. The proposal seemed to come out of the blue, with no time to think about options.
“This process has been lacking in transparency,” said Patrick Wickstrom, a student at NVU-Lyndon. “The proposed plan is ill advised and irresponsible. We must devise a plan that works with unions, students, local communities and all of Vermont that delivers equity and equality.”
“My team at Basement Medicine and I have been trying to get information about the financial state of the system for weeks, to no avail. Nobody answered our emails,” Flieder said.
Adriana Eldred, a student at NVU-Johnson and a Basement Medicine staffer, told the board of trustees Monday that closing the campuses “will deny access to higher education for hundreds of college students who cannot move to Castleton, and create a disproportionate geographical barrier to the northern tier of Vermont.”
Ari Erlbaum is taking online classes through NVU and commuting to take in-person classes at Johnson. He doesn’t believe the trustees would vote to close campuses unless it was absolutely necessary — but closing any campus “is a mistake without doing robust community outreach first.”
“It will take outside-the-box and perhaps untested ideas to keep all the campuses open,” Erlbaum said. But he thinks there are plenty of bright, creative minds at the university and among people in the larger communities.
“As you’ve seen from the recent uproar, they care deeply about the school and are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep it open,” he said.
Flieder watched the eight-hour board of trustees meeting on Monday.
“I watched, heartbroken, as a hundred people gave their public comments yesterday,” Flieder said. As those comments were made, “several trustees left the frame, rolled their eyes or didn’t even look at the camera while the community was talking.”
“We are calling on Spaulding to resign, and for the board to vote against the closure of campuses,” Flieder said.
According to Spaulding, the state colleges are out of money after decades of being underfunded by the state government, and are millions of dollars in the hole.
Eldred said the support that has emerged for the state colleges should persuade the Legislature to pump money into the system.
Wickstrom asked, “How can the board of trustees and the chancellor expect the state to give funding to the system after taking away access to higher education from such a large chunk of Vermont?”
“Allow the community to come up with proposals, lobby the Legislature, form grassroots groups to support the colleges and do what communities do to save the things they love and depend on,” Erlbaum said.