On October 25, 2023

Where has all that money gone?

 

By the Vermont State Colleges Labor Task Force

Editor’s note: the VSC Labor Task Force is a group formed in 2020 that fights to bring faculty and staff voices and research to the decision-making processes that have accompanied the formation and ongoing transformation of the Vermont State University system. 

Recent announcements from the Vermont State University administration propose making continued cuts to programs and faculty in order to “right” the VTSU’s fiscal ship. 

We strongly disagree with this “cut it and they will come” approach, this notion that somehow cutting programs and faculty will increase enrollment on our campuses. 

We believe that, rather than directly and negatively affecting our students on our campuses, the focus of cuts should first be on the rapidly expanded centralized VTSU administration. 

Over the past three years, we have made periodic requests to the chancellor’s office for personnel census data — these are publicly available lists that show every administrator, faculty and staff member in the system, along with job title and salary. The data show that the VTSU administration has exploded to almost 150 positions, with an annual payroll of over $13 million. And this does not include the millions of dollars that have been spent on outside consultants and managerial software. 

We also believe that there is unnecessary duplication in the organizational structure. For example, in a small university system such as ours, do we really need a board of trustees AND a chancellor AND a president?

Two years ago, the Legislature granted increased funding to the state college system; in return, the system was required to merge into one university and continue to cut $5 million per year for five years from our operating budgets. It must be noted that this came after decades of underfunding, contrary to the fiscal directive of the original statute that created the Vermont State College System in the 1960s. 

And there have already been cuts to faculty, staff and programs over the past five to 10 years. For example, faculty numbers have decreased by 27% since 2012. How then can an increase in administration be justified?

Interim President Mike Smith continues to tout the increased funding while firmly stating that in return we must do the continued belt-tightening that the Legislature also has required. 

To this, we ask: Where has all that money gone? If the campuses are still being required to reduce spending by $5 million per year by cutting faculty, staff and programs, that money from the Legislature obviously has not gone toward supporting faculty, staff and programs. 

Yes, there has been increased funding promised in some necessary places, such as expanding offerings in nursing. But other critical programs, such as those for students who want to be teachers, social workers, physical therapists and biomedical researchers among many, many other valuable career paths, have not been similarly supported, and faculty are currently being offered buyouts while the threat of layoffs looms large. 

We can only conclude that too much of this one-time funding has gone toward hiring an unnecessary number of upper-level administrators, consulting firms, and managerial software, and this is where meaningful cuts in spending can and should be accomplished.

The members of the VSC Labor Task Force: Helen Mango, Beth Walsh, Linda Olson, Mary Droege, Ashley Stackowitz, Jonathan Kaplan, Amy Miller, Margaret Wald, Miranda Axworthy, Kate Gold, Denise Moses, Karry Booska, Nancy Thompson, Julie Theoret, Billie Neathawk and Cyndi Miller.

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