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Some faculty question university leadership, finances

March 29, 2021 GMT

Some University of Vermont faculty on Monday derided the plan to phase out certain arts and sciences programs and questioned the school’s financial issues, when it has millions of dollars in funds, calling it a values crisis at the state’s flagship university.

A group of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members called UVM United Against the Cuts held a virtual press conference to call for the resignation of UVM President Suresh Garimella. More that 2,900 people have signed a petition expressing no confidence in his leadership.

“These programs provide a kind of readiness that our society and world community need today perhaps more than ever, as we face the onset of climate change and the likely conflicts that mass immigrations will engender,” said Meaghan Emery, an associate professor of French. “And it’s not even clear that the cuts lead to any real gains.”

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Last December, UVM announced a plan to phase out 12 of the College of Arts and Sciences’ 56 majors, 11 of its 63 minors, and four of its 10 master’s degree programs, based on low enrollment, and was facing structural deficit of over $8 million in fiscal year 2021, the school said.

Of the no-confidence petition, UVM spokesperson Enrique Corredera said it’s a change.org petition being promoted by unrecognized and unaffiliated group that anyone in the world can sign.

“We have been receiving widespread support from people who are pleased the university is examining these issues and taking care to ensure that student tuition dollars, which pay for 75% of our general fund expenses, are used responsibly,” he said by email.

The retirement or reconfiguration of programs is needed “to ensure that UVM remains a robust and relevant university that truly meets the needs of 21st century students, and of our surrounding communities,” he said, adding that the focus has “caused unease among some and unleashed widespread misinformation.”

UVM needs to address the $8.6 million structural deficit in the College of Arts and Sciences regardless of what budgeting model is used and the union is conflating the university’s budget with its financial statements, he said.

While UVM did report a $24 million gain in the value of its endowment, “it would be a breach of fiduciary responsibility for the university to use endowment resources for any purpose other than that prescribed by the donors,” Corredera said. The $34 million “discretionary reserve” is a one-time emergency cash reserve that cannot be used to cover a structural deficit that reoccurs every year, he said. And UVM has used federal coronavirus relief funds to help pay for more than $30 million of pandemic-related expenses this fiscal year, he said. Those funds cannot be used to account for revenue losses or to pay for general fund expenditures, he said.

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But Emery said Garimella’s phrase multidisciplinary courses means downsizing not streamlining.

“I have always felt the support and commitment to community here until now,” said Julie Roberts, president of UVM’s faculty union, who has been at the school since 1994.