Local News, State News

CU alumni push back on ‘Vermont State University’

Board of trustees to make decision on name, Sept. 29

By Tiffany Tan/VTDigger

The Vermont State Colleges System’s board of trustees will consider public comments before deciding whether to adopt “Vermont State University” as the new name for the planned consolidation of Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Tech.

About a thousand Castleton alumni, for one, want the board to consider their recommendation ahead of its Wednesday vote on the new name. They’re asking the board to retain the name “Castleton University” for the new educational entity that is expected to be formed in July 2023.

In a letter sent to the trustees last week, the alumni cited factors such as the cost of rebranding the new entity when the Castleton University brand is apparently already established both at home and abroad.

They underscored that within the state colleges system, Castleton has the largest alumni base, including students from 36 countries, the largest and most up-to-date campus, a wide-reaching academic program as well as a competitive sports program.

Jeff Weld, a 2004 Castleton graduate who wrote the letter and collected signatures, said his ultimate concern is the potential waste of taxpayer and tuition dollars on an unnecessary rebrand.

“Those funds could be put to better use by leveraging an established brand like Castleton to help lift the entire system and better serve its students,” Weld, a marketing professional, said. “The cost to implement and then the cost to recruit using a new brand in a firmly established marketplace is a significant one, and is being vastly underestimated in my opinion.”

In a statement, Vermont State Colleges System Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said the “Vermont State University” moniker leverages the nationally and internationally known Vermont brand. And designating the new institution as a university communicates the prestige, quality and level of education it provides.

Zdatny said the system’s board will consider the feedback it has already received, as well as comments at a public session on Wednesday, before deciding on the new name.

Some critics have also taken aim at the process to arrive at the “Vermont State University” recommendation, which was made by VisionPoint, a North Carolina marketing firm that the state colleges system hired to look into the rebranding.

Weld said the system brought up the name as an option months ago, and he believes the decision-makers ended up where they wanted to go, calling the name choice “disingenuous.” “To have ‘Vermont State University’ be the final recommendation after spending money on a consulting firm seems a bit wasteful as well,” he said in an email.

State Sen. Anthony Pollina, D/P-Washington, shared Weld’s sentiments. An alumnus of Johnson State College (which merged with Lyndon State College to become Northern Vermont University), Pollina said he is concerned about the cost of hiring a marketing firm to come up with a name that the state colleges system had already been using. “You have to wonder why they have to spend money on asking a consultant what to name a school, when in fact they already picked out a name for themselves,” Pollina said.

State colleges system spokesperson Katherine Levasseur said the contract with VisionPoint cost around $261,000, which includes marketing materials for the new institution.

In her statement, Zdatny said VisionPoint conducted extensive audience research, involving more than 3,000 students, faculty, staff, leadership, alumni, community members and other Vermont residents.

“It will also be used to establish the brand identity, mission and vision of the new institution in the coming months,” she said.

Pollina said he prefers to keep Castleton University as a separate entity, while consolidating Vermont Tech under NVU. “How long will we be rebranding?” he said.

Lindsey Hubbard, on the other hand, prefers a new name altogether for the consolidated schools. The 2020 Vermont Tech graduate believes this is a fair way to move forward and won’t show favoritism toward one of the existing institutions. But Zijie “Frank” Wan, a signatory of the Castleton alumni letter, said that from an international perspective, a new name will result in losing brand recognition. Chinese students like himself, he said, value established brands when choosing where to go to school.

If Castleton University becomes Vermont State University, Wan said some people overseas might think it’s a university too new to be trusted or one that is ranked too low to have gotten much attention.

The state colleges system board is soliciting public comment ahead of its vote on Wednesday. Members of the public can also sign up to speak directly at the meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be live-streamed online at vsc.edu/live.

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