Hammond’s contract not renewed in Theater Dept.


Hannah Hammond

 Assistant professor of Theater Hannah Hammond has been terminated from her position at Vermont State University. 

“I knew that there was a possibility with the optimization that they could not renew my contract because it’s a year-to-year contract,” said Hammond, who received an email revealing the news over Thanksgiving break. “That said, I teach a large portion of the major because I teach all the acting and directing, and I direct the shows.” 

Despite Administrative Optimization indicating the future non-renewal of temporary contracts, Hammond had hoped her position would remain, especially because of the students.

“It really sucks for students, because they’re the ones really affected by this. I know I can find another job, but students’ only option is to transfer [because of an insufficient program],” Hammond said.

“My first thought when Hannah spoke these words was that it wasn’t true,” said sophomore film major and theater minor, Carissa Challinor. “It was all some big joke because we had fought for the arts in the beginning of the year, so it would be funny for something to go wrong for the arts again?”

“Why do the arts, specifically the theater program, always have to be targeted?” she posed. 

Students reacted in tears and frustration when Hammond shared the news. Despite her connection with students, it also meant uncertainty about the department’s future. Challinor described her as a professor who “knows our strengths and weaknesses” and somewho who “has allowed for those in the theater department to shine bright.” 

Should Hammond’s position end after this semester, one or more adjunct professors would be hired to fill the required classes. However, it’s unclear who would direct the mainstage productions. 

Steven Gross, chair of Music, Theater, Dance, and Technology, was informed that productions would likely run through a club system. An outside director would be hired for the shows, still paid for by the Theater Department. 

He has met with Dean of Arts and Education David Kupferman and Provost Nolan Atkins to advocate for Hammond to stay. 

“Kupferman fully supports our request to keep Hannah,” said Gross. “I’ve received no concessions from the provost. He has a hard line in the sand about simply not renewing any temporary contacts.”

Atkins addressed his position in an emailed response. 

“This position was hired as one-year terminal for the past couple years pending the outcome of the program consolidation work,” he said. “If you look at the number of programs and related activities in this area and associated expense to run them relative to enrollments, adjustments are needed to help ensure fiscal sustainability.” 

VTSU’s $22 million deficit has been the driving force of program and administrative cuts outlined in the Optimization 2.0 and Administrative Optimization plans. However, faculty, staff, students, and alum argue that cuts to the Fine Arts Center are going overboard. 

Art by Joe Vyvial

“Eliminating a full-time professor position on the only campus that has the theater degree program does not serve our students, current or future. It is setting us up for failure, especially when we are losing such an incredibly talented and dedicated individual,” said FAC Director and Soundings Manager Marisa Valent-Altland. 

She said now that Theater at Johnson is being eliminated and the program is condensing to Castleton, it’s vital to maintain the department’s strengths. Short-lived professors would make it “difficult for students to relearn [their] comfort zone of experimentation,” she said. 

As well, it is less effective to teach students one way in the classroom, and an entirely different way during their productions, theater students said. 

“Without the same person being our director and professor, there won’t be the same personal connection…it would be hard for theater students to progress in their studies and improve in areas they want to improve in,” added Challinor. 

“[Hannah] is a professional who cares for every individual she teaches. [Adjunct professors] will never give us that personal training or connection that Hannah did,” she said. 

“It would take four to five adjuncts to replace her.” 

In addition to student, faculty, and staff opposition, alumni are potentially backing up their stance. 

“The biggest hope we have right now is the office of alumni relations have contacts with large donors who are willing to donate the funds necessary for Hannah’s salary. But that would only be a temporary solution,” Gross said. 

Former English professor Jennifer Bagley and her husband, Fred, have generosly donated time and money to Castleton. 

Bagley recently wrote VTSU President David Bergh to advocate for Hammond’s renewal of contract. 

“To lose a person who has such an important impact on this very successful program at Castleton, to replace her with a collection of part time instructors who by definition can only teach a few credits per semester, and would have a difficult time offering a coordinated curriculum for the theater students, is a mistake,” she said.

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