Protesting the cuts

Students, faculty march against proposed cuts by administration

Students and faculty rally on Oct. 26 against proposed cuts from the Optimization 2.0 report.

On Thursday, Oct. 26, Vermont State University Castleton students and faculty gathered at the Fine Arts Center – posters and instruments in hand – and set off to protest Optimization 2.0 during a meeting of state legislators and the Vermont Task Force.

Led by art professor Oliver Schemm shouting into a makeshift paper megaphone, the group slowly walked from the Fine Arts Center to Huden Dining Hall and then to Hoff Hall where the legislators were.

“Students know what students want,” Schemm led in chant, as those repeated. 

Once at Hoff Hall, the legislators came out to listen.

“Admin is bloated!” Lisa Pleban, professor of Physical Education, shouted to them. “These kids are victims! You guys hold the purse strings!”

The Castleton Spirit Band, led by Senior Aria Drew, carried the passion of the rally with songs such as “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” as did students’ hand-made posters with statements such as “Keep arts on all campuses” and “No faculty cuts.”

That afternoon, several administrative layoffs were delivered, and the next day were officially announced in the Administrative Optimization report.

The report, as described by Interim President Mike Smith, plans to “put Vermont State University on a path to fiscal sustainability by FY2027” in conjunction with the Optimization 2.0 plan.

It entails a reduction of 33 full-time positions with 21 being at executive, managing, or supervisory level, totaling administrative savings of $3.1 million, in addition to other savings.

Cut positions to the Castleton campus include the Associate Dean of Students, Coordinator of Conferences and Events, Assistant Director of Applied Learning Opportunities, and more.

Associate Dean of Students Matthew Patry said his term will end after this semester and raises his concern about the methodology for layoffs.

“I’m at a loss. I understand they had to make cuts. I wish they hadn’t done it in vacuum,” said Patry. “It seems like there’s no understanding of the outside of the classroom experience and how important that is.”

He explained the existing deficiencies in Student Life, such as from the loss of the Assistant Director of Student Activities, saying that students and faculty are “working extra hard to pick up the slack.”

With the loss of his position, he is not sure who will handle details of the Student Government Association, Campus Activities Board, or the plethora of clubs and organizations.

He’s also concerned about the loss of Jake Rick, who “does day-to-day operations for facilities because we don’t have enough people to do it,” and Bridget Olson, who “spends an enormous amount of hours setting up rooms for special events because we don’t have enough custodial.”

Patry said he’ll “be fine,” but he’s worried about the students and the experience.

He argues that lack of an in-person Dean of Students will be far too impersonal, especially in situations of crisis, such as a sexual assault, where parents want to immediately meet with someone to help their student.

“Are they going to say, ‘let’s see if we can set up a Zoom conference?” he posed.

In addition, he worries about the lack of knowledge of Castleton’s history going forward, endangering time-honored traditions like Student Orientation work. 

“(That model) was so well known nationally that we had large universities copying what had been set up here at Castleton,” he said. 

Patry urges students to “be very clear with the administration of what their expectations are, what their needs are” and that goes far beyond the classroom experience.

“We need people, boots on the ground, interfering with the students, person to person. That’s what made us strong. And that’s what we’re losing,” he said.

Outside Hoff Hall, where legislators and VT Task Force members were meeting to discuss VTSU well-being and current threats to programs, Sen. Terry Williams said that “as far as legislations go, we don’t want to see colleges fail.”

“We need the truth. It’s not just other taxpayer money. It’s your money,” added Rutland-3 Rep. Jarrod Sammis, which includes Castleton. “We’re going to work like hell to get this job done.”

Before they spoke, the legislators heard from students pleading out loud to halt the cuts. 

“Administration sees us as numbers, teachers know our name,” said Adam Shard. “Faculty is our family. We can’t get rid of them.” 

Post-rally, Hannah Bowie, a second-year Music Ed. Major and alto sax player on the Spirit Band, defended why music and art are necessary at Castleton and in the state.

“Without the music B.A. program, we lose half the people in our ensembles, half the people in our music department, and If people don’t make it in music ed, they have nothing else to go to,” said Bowie.

She argued that there are many opportunities in any major with the arts and “it makes no sense to cut people.”

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