The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s lives, and this does not exclude Castleton University Interim President Jonathan Spiro.
Spiro made an appearance in a Media Writing class on Sept. 11 to be interviewed by students. He spoke about more serious issues, such as COVID-19 and the recent stabbing, as well as telling students lighthearted anecdotes about his life.
He told students about how he was “a wreck” in high school and lied to his parents about applying to college. He told of his love for surfing and the incomparable feeling of catching that first wave.
He also spoke of his lifelong fascination with race and ethnicity. And when it comes to the pandemic, Spiro says that he has been fairly unimpacted compared to his friends and family in places like New York and California, but it has changed what he has been expected to do in his job.
When asked by student Luke McGee what it was like to become president in such a tumultuous time, Spiro responded that, “to me it’s not tumultuous, this is just what you do when you become a president.”
Spiro was thrown into the job at a time when the Vermont State College system is in trouble, a global pandemic is in full swing, and protests are happening nationally for the Black Lives Matter movement. He described this as “full on crisis mode.”
However, he says his experience in teaching high school for 11 years taught him many life skills and helped to prepare him.
“Once you have taught a class at any level… that prepares you for anything,” he said.
Even when discussing serious topics, Spiro finds a way to speak animatedly – to keep his listeners engaged and even make them laugh.
Spiro compared his expectations for the job to being the Queen of England, to attend events and raise money and to be a friendly face to the students on campus.
However, what used to be most of the job has now become a minuscule portion of it. “This is the most unusual year ever,” Spiro said. “I would love, by next year, to go back to being the Queen of England.”
Despite not being able to experience more of the fun aspects of being president, Spiro says he is enjoying the job and, as of right now, would like to be considered as a candidate for president after this year.
“Ask me at Christmastime, when I’m curled up in the fetal position in my office,” Spiro added with a laugh.
While the plan for next semester has not been decided yet, Spiro hopes that Castleton will be able to return to face-to-face learning. This is hopeful news for the majority who prefer in-person learning, but there is still a large minority of students and faculty who really enjoy online learning.
The school has invested millions in online class equipment and training, and Spiro says that, “there is no way we are going to go back to being a 100% face-to-face university. No university is.”
Even so, as Spiro points out, Castleton’s niche is being a small, liberal arts university with many options for extracurricular activities and the community feel of campus.
“I feel his determination to have face-to-face classes is just a reflection of the fact that he cares about what makes Castleton University the school it is,” says Aris Sherwood, one of the students in the Media Writing class.
It was clear in listening to Spiro speak that he cares about Castleton, but beyond that, his interactions with the class showed that he cares about students and genuinely loves to talk to them.
Almost every time he was asked a question by a student, he remarked about how good it was, even saying “good job you guys,” enthusiastically after only the second question.
“I’ve always known he cares more about the students than anything else,” Sherwood said. “And you can feel that in the way he talks about campus and campus life.”
With the struggles the Vermont State College system has been facing, the future of all Vermont colleges is unclear. Spiro says there has been talk of combining all the colleges under the title of Vermont State University at different locations. Those decisions are out of his hands, but Spiro is sure of one thing.
“There’s no question in my mind whatsoever that Castleton will always be here,” he said.