For the second time this year, the Vermont State Colleges System is poised to lose a top leader.
The system’s board of trustees announced Monday evening that Sophie Zdatny will step down as chancellor at the end of December. She has served in that role since July 2020 and has worked for the state colleges since 2014.
Zdatny, an attorney, took over as interim chancellor at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, after her predecessor’s plan to shutter campuses led to his resignation. She has since grappled with declining student enrollment, tough legislative mandates and an aggressive consolidation. Zdatny has also presided over an influx of state money to an institution that, compared to other state college systems around the country, had been starved of public investment.
“I am incredibly proud of the work we’ve undertaken together to stabilize the Vermont State Colleges and to set it on the path of transformation to ensure public higher education remains accessible and affordable in Vermont’s rural communities for generations to come,” Zdatny said in a written statement, calling herself grateful to colleagues and appreciative of students and faculty.
The state colleges system is a sprawling institution that includes Community College of Vermont and the newly created Vermont State University. The latter brought together Vermont Technical College, Castleton University and Northern Vermont University — the last of which was itself the result of a 2018 merger of Johnson State College and Lyndon State College.
Vermont State University’s launch this summer was marred by an announcement in February that it would close its libraries and downgrade various sports programs. Community members pushed back, officials apologized and the university president, Parwinder Grewal, abruptly resigned — just months before the July 1 launch date.
Mike Smith, a former secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, has since been serving as interim university president as the state colleges system searches for a successor to Grewal.
According to Monday’s announcement, the system’s board of trustees — which was scheduled to take part in an annual retreat Monday and Tuesday at the Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee — “anticipates announcing a hiring process for the next leader in the coming weeks.”
Rep. Lynn Dickinson, R-St. Albans Town, who chairs the board, said in a statement that she and her colleagues would be working to “identify a leader for the next phase of transformation,” saying that Zdatny’s successor would build on her efforts to “grow the system’s value in Vermont and beyond and to continue transforming and synchronizing” its constituent institutions.
Dickinson hailed Zdatny as “an extraordinary leader for our system and its institutions (during) an incredibly challenging time.” Zdatny has led the system through its transformation “with purpose and clarity” and had been a “steady guide” during the pandemic, the board chair said.
“It is bittersweet to accept her resignation, but I speak for all trustees in wishing her well,” Dickinson said.