Response to The Spartan letters to the editor
I am grateful for the first amendment and the opportunity for all citizens to voice their opinions publicly. This is a cherished right. That said, there’s a difference between opinions and facts. I hope, by means of this letter, to clarify some of the misunderstandings and speculation presented in letters to the editor published in the March 7 edition of The Spartan.
First, let me address the assertion that the news of the budget restructuring process is not transparent or is somehow a deceptive undertaking that we have embarked upon on a whim to “purge” the humanities. Quite the contrary, we chose to announce this process now in an effort to be inclusive from the start. Final decisions have not been made, we are just beginning the process. As students were enjoying winter break, University leadership continued to work diligently to develop a plan to put Castleton on solid ground and close a $1.5 million gap in this year’s budget that I inherited upon my arrival this winter. Part of that work included a communication plan that began that week.
We messaged staff and faculty first, followed by a public press release to media. Our decision to address students first thing Monday morning through a special “Calling All Spartans” email was made because all students would be back on campus, plugged back into email and campus life with the appropriate resources available to them if they had questions.
Since the announcement, I have answered every question that has come to me, conducted dozens of interviews with the media, maintained a transparent, communicative, and collaborative approach to finding solutions, updating all students, faculty, and staff with weekly communication at a minimum.
If you have questions, ask them, please. It is far better than to speculate and create rumors based on the unknown. In difficult situations we must always rely on facts, not fears, to guide our decisions.
As was noted in one letter to the editor, I hold two master’s degrees, one of them a terminal degree–a master of fine arts–in the liberal arts. I also hold a doctorate in education (and a bachelor's in education), and what I learned while earning those degrees is that the arts and the liberal arts represent a critical aspect of a holistic education. That's why we have made a commitment to retain strong liberal arts and arts programs at Castleton University. These disciplines represent a major part of our identity and, as such, provide opportunities for students to gain exposure to a broad spectrum of humanities and sciences. I accepted my appointment with the understanding that my passion for a liberal arts education and the role of the arts as part of a holistic education would serve as a foundation for the decisions that I make on behalf of our students.
Furthermore, the idea that we will be eliminating disciplines is false. The word "major" as represented in our catalog, refers to a long list of concentrations within general disciplines. A faculty task force was convened to assess opportunities to strengthen programs by limiting the number of concentrations and identifying those leading to career success for our graduates. These efforts will lead to strengthened academic programs, and subsequently, the value of the degrees our students seek.
We plan to retain all current disciplines, including those within the arts and humanities. The notion of a “purge” is patently false. When these misunderstandings occur, I always wonder where and how misinformation is perpetuated. It saddens me to think of students worrying about the sustainability of their programs.
The primary focus of this spring's restructuring is to ensure that Castleton students receive a high quality, affordable education and that the burden of the deficit of last fall is not passed on to our students. Furthermore, we will ensure, through this process that the current deficit does not continue to compound into a larger problem for the future. The majority of this financial adjustment will be focused on positions that are not student facing.
While it is difficult to arrive on the scene and find myself pressed to engage in this process, as your new leader the challenges we face belong to all of us now. The restructure that you've read about is a necessary action based on the enrollment decline of previous years and specifically of this past fall. While we saw a strong spring enrollment with our January class, we did not make up the difference from the lower fall enrollment, hence the deficit we now face.
We expect to see a continued decline in traditional Vermonters pursuing college right out of high school. Many institutions similar to ours, especially in the New England area, have had to engage in similar right-sizing initiatives. As noted in the press release, Castleton has seen its total enrollment decline over the last four years and previous efforts to maintain staffing levels while filling budget gaps were made. While these efforts were noble, they are not sustainable for the long term. We have an obligation to balance our budget–and we will.
We must expand our reach, explore new and innovative educational opportunities, and continue to strengthen our current programs. I bring with me a track record of growth, a strong background in collaborative initiatives, and a commitment to transparency.
Once our restructure is complete, we will be positioned to engage in innovative initiatives to expand opportunities for our students, and continue to strengthen current programs while exploring new and exciting options for the future.
This coming fall we will be offering courses at the CCV campuses in Rutland and Winooski. We recently signed a general articulation agreement with SUNY Adirondack. We’ve lowered our graduate tuition and will be offering more online graduate programs. We are exploring innovative ways to reach students across the country through distance education and blended learning opportunities.
In summary, we need to right-size our university, press the reset button, and prepare to move forward. Our future is very bright.
If you know one thing, please know this: Castleton University students are and have always been my first priority–and that isn't about to change.
Dr. Karen M Scolforo
President, Castleton University